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   Chapter 21 No.21

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 19318

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Barrant had returned with a feeling of irritation against the mischances of events which had brought an important piece of evidence to light after his departure for London. He had chosen to commence inquiries into Sisily's disappearance as soon as he had reached London instead of going to Scotland Yard, where a guarded telegram from Inspector Dawfield awaited him, and although he had hastened to obey the summons back to Cornwall as soon as he received it, two valuable days had been lost. It was true that in that time he had found traces of the girl which he believed would lead to her early arrest, but the letter, with its implication that the dead man was aware of his impending doom, was a highly significant clue, and strengthened Barrant's original belief that the real mystery of Robert Turold's death lay much deeper than the plausible surface of events indicated.

He sat now, with a kind of sombre thoughtfulness, listening to Mr. Brimsdown's account of his first meeting with his dead client. That story carried with it a suggestion of adventure and mystery, but it was difficult to say whether those elements had anything to do with Robert Turold's death, thirty years later. It brought up the image of a man, rugged and dominant even in youth, winning his way into the heart of a middle-aged lawyer by the story of his determination to possess an old English title. Most men have the spirit of Romance hidden in them somewhere, and chance or good luck had sent Robert Turold, on his return to England, to the one solicitor in London to whom his story was likely to make the strongest kind of appeal. The spirit of Romance in Mr. Brimsdown's bosom was no shimmering thing of thistledown and fancy, but took the concrete shape of the peerage law of England, out of which he had fashioned an image of worship to the old nobility and the days of chivalry.

Barrant gathered so much from the lawyer's description of that first meeting. And if Robert Turold had found in the solicitor the man he most needed in his search for the missing title, it was equally clear that his own great quality of rugged strength had exercised the most extraordinary sway on the lawyer-a species of personal magnetism which had never lost its original effect. It was not until the second or third meeting-Mr. Brimsdown was not quite sure which-that the question of money was introduced. The lawyer had pointed out to his client that the search for the title was likely to be prolonged and expensive, and Robert Turold had indifferently assured him that he had money at his command for that purpose lying on deposit at a London bank. The amount, when he did mention it, was much greater than Mr. Brimsdown imagined-nearly £50,000 in fact. It was at Robert Turold's suggestion that Mr. Brimsdown undertook to invest the sum at better rates of interest, and thus, before a year had passed, the whole of Robert Turold's business affairs were in the hands of the solicitor.

On one point Mr. Brimsdown was clear. He had never heard from Robert Turold how he first came into possession of this large sum of money, and his client had never encouraged inquiry on the subject. Mr. Brimsdown had once ventured to ask him how he had made his fortune, and Robert Turold, with a freezing look, had replied that he had made it abroad. Mr. Brimsdown had never again referred to the subject, deeming it no business of his.

Barrant, listening to this with the air of a man who was not to be deceived, could not see that the narration threw any illumination on the letter or the other circumstances of Robert Turold's death. It seemed too far-fetched to suppose there was any connection between the fortune which Robert Turold had brought from abroad thirty years before and the letter he had sent to his solicitor on the night of his death. The idea did indeed cross his mind that some iniquity in that money-getting may have been responsible for a belated revenge, but he dismissed that thought as too wide for the scope of his inquiry. Abroad! That was a vague word, and thirty years was a long while back.

As he contemplated the manifold perplexities of the case, Barrant tried to shut out the more sinister inference of the letter by asking himself, if after all, the postscript was not capable of some entirely innocent interpretation. But his conscientious mind refused to permit him to evade responsibility in that way. The letter could not be dismissed with a wave of one's wishing wand. It remained stubbornly in Barrant's perspective, an unexplained factor which could be neither overlooked nor ignored.

These thoughts ran through his mind as Mr. Brimsdown talked of his dead client. At the same time, the detective's attitude towards the lawyer underwent a considerable change. His professional caution, amounting almost to suspicion, became modified by the more perceptive point of view that as the dead man had turned to Mr. Brimsdown for assistance, it would be better for him to trust the lawyer also-to look upon him as an ally, and make common cause with him in the search for Robert Turold's murderer.

This changed attitude, carrying with it a seeming friendliness, the establishment, as it were, of an understanding between them, was not lost upon Mr. Brimsdown. But it had its awkward side for him, by giving added weight to the responsibility of deciding whether he should reveal or withhold his chance encounter with Sisily at Paddington. Till then, Mr. Brimsdown had been unable to make up his mind about that. There were some nice points involved in the decision. In an effort to reach a solution he broached the subject.

"Is it still your opinion that Miss Turold is guilty-after this letter?" he asked.

"Her disappearance lays upon her the obligation of explaining her secret visit to her father on the night of the murder," was the guarded reply.

"Then you intend to arrest her?"

"Yes."

"Do you know where she is?"

A quick consideration of this question led Barrant to the conclusion that it would do no harm to let the lawyer know the scanty truth.

"She is in London. I have traced her to Paddington."

Mr. Brimsdown decided that, as the detective knew that much, it absolved him from any obligation to betray the daughter of his dead client. His feeling of relief unsealed his lips, and led him into an indiscretion.

"It seems incredible that she can be guilty." As he spoke the memory of Sisily's tender and wistful face, as he had seen it that night, came back to him.

"She had some justification, you know, if she was listening at the door that afternoon," replied Barrant thoughtfully.

"It is hardly possible that she could have inflicted those marks on the arm," Mr. Brimsdown said.

"How did you learn of them?" asked the detective quickly, in a changed tone.

Too late Mr. Brimsdown realized that in contrast to his silence with Charles Turold, he had now gone to the other extreme and said too much. He hesitated, but his hesitation was useless before the swiftness of Barrant's deduction.

"Was Charles Turold showing you the marks when I found you in the other room?" he asked with a keen glance.

Mr. Brimsdown's admission of that fact was coupled with an assurance that the young man had shown him the marks because he was convinced of Sisily's innocence.

Barrant dismissed young Turold's opinions about the case with an impatient shake of the head. "Who told him about the marks?" he said.

It was the thought which had occurred to Mr. Brimsdown at the time, but he did not say so then. "How did you discover them?" he asked.

"When I was examining the body. But Charles Turold had no reason to examine the body. Perhaps Dr. Ravenshaw told him. I must ask him."

"It is a terrible and ghastly crime," said Mr. Brimsdown, in an effort to turn the mind of his companion in another direction. "There is something about it that I do not understand-some deep mystery which has not yet been fathomed. Was it really his daughter? If so, how did she escape from the room and leave the door locked inside? Escape from these windows is plainly impossible."

He crossed to the window, and stood for a moment looking down at a grey sea tossing in futile restlessness. After an interval he said-

"Do you suspect Thalassa as well?"

The detective looked at him with a cautious air: "Why do you ask that?" he said, with some restraint in his tone.

"It might account … for certain things."

Barrant shook his head in a way which was more noncommittal than negative. He wanted to ascertain what the lawyer thought, but he was not prepared to reveal all his own thoughts in return.

"Do you think that Robert Turold invented this story about his marriage?" he asked suddenly.

"For what purpose?"

"He did not want his daughter to succeed him in the title. His announcement about the previous marriage strikes me as just a little too opportune. Where are the proofs?"

"You would not talk like that if you had known Robert Turold," said the lawyer, turning away from the window. "He was too anxious to gain the title to jeopardize the succession by concocting a story of a false marriage. He had proofs-I have not the slightest doubt of that. I believe he had them in the house when he made his statement to the family."

"Then where are they now?"

"They may have been stolen."

"For what reason?"

"By some one interested."

"The person most interested is Robert Turold's daughter," said Barrant thoughtfully. "That supposition fits in with the theory of her guilt. Robert Turold is supposed to have kept valuable papers in that old clock on the wall, which w

as found on the floor that night. Apparently he staggered to it during his dying moments and pulled it down on top of him. For what purpose? His daughter may have guessed that the proofs of her illegitimacy were kept there, and tried to get them. Her father sought to stop her, and she shot him."

"That theory does not account for the marks on the arm," said the lawyer.

"It does, because it is based on the belief that there was somebody else in the room at the time, or immediately afterwards."

"Thalassa?"

"Yes-Thalassa. He knows more about the events of this night than he will admit, but I shall have him yet."

"But the theory does not explain the letter," persisted the lawyer with an earnest look. "Robert Turold could not possibly have had any premonition that his daughter intended to murder him, and even if he had, it would not have led him to write that letter with its strange postscript, which suggests that he had a sudden realization of some deep and terrible danger in the very act of writing it. And if Thalassa was implicated, was he likely to go to such trouble to establish a theory of suicide, and then post a letter to me which destroyed that theory?"

"We do not know that Thalassa posted the letter-it may have been Robert Turold himself. As for premonitions-" Barrant checked himself as if struck by a sudden thought, stood up, and walked across the room to where the broken hood clock had been replaced on its bracket. He stood there regarding it, and the round eyes in the moon's face seemed to return his glance with a heavy stare.

"If that fat face in the clock could only speak as well as goggle its eyes!" he said, with a mirthless smile. "We should learn something then. What's the idea of it all-the rolling eyes, the moon, the stars, and a verse as lugubrious as a Presbyterian sermon on infant damnation. The whole thing is uncanny."

"It's a common enough device in old clocks," said the lawyer, joining him. "It is commoner, however, in long-cased clocks-the so-called grandfather clock. I have seen all sorts of moving figures and mechanisms in long-cased clocks in old English country houses. A heaving ship was a very familiar device, the movement being caused, as in this clock, by a wire from the pendulum. I have never seen a specimen with the rotating moon-dial before, though they were common enough in some parts of England at one time. This is a Dutch clock, and the earlier Dutch makers were always fond of representing their moons as human faces. It was made by a great master of his craft, as famous in his native land as old Dan Quare is in England, and its mechanism has outlived its creator by more than three hundred years."

"Would it be an accurate timekeeper, do you think?" asked Barrant, looking mistrustfully at the motionless face of the moon, as though he suspected it of covertly sneering at him.

"I should think so. These old clockmakers made their clocks to keep perfect time, and outlast Time himself! And this clock is a perfect specimen of the hood clock, which marked a period in clock-making between the old weight clocks and the long cases. Hood clocks were popular in their day in Holland, but they have always been rare in this country. It would be interesting to trace how this one came into this house. No doubt it was taken from a wreck, like so much of the furniture in old Cornish houses."

"You seem to know a lot about old clocks."

Mr. Brimsdown, astride his favourite hobby, rode it irresistibly. He discoursed of clocks and their makers, and Barrant listened in silence. The subject was not without its fascination for him, because it suggested a strange train of thought about the hood clock which was the text, as it were, of the lawyer's discourse. He looked up. Mr. Brimsdown, in front of the clock, was discoursing about dials and pendulums. Barrant broke in abruptly with the question on his mind-

"Can you, with your knowledge of old clocks, suggest any reason which would cause Robert Turold to go to it? Are the works intricate? Would such a clock require much adjustment?"

"Robert Turold was not likely to think of adjusting a clock in his dying moments," returned Mr. Brimsdown, with a glance which betokened that he perfectly understood his companion had some other reason for his question.

"There's a smear of blood on the dial," said Barrant, staring at it.

"Was that made by the right or left hand?"

"The right hand was resting on the clock-face. Why do you ask?"

Mr. Brimsdown hesitated, then said: "The thought has occurred to me that Robert Turold may have gone to the clock for a different purpose-not for papers. Perhaps his last thought was to indicate the name of the murderer on the white face of the clock."

"In his blood? Rather a melodramatic idea, that! He had writing materials before him if he wanted to do that, if he thought of it. He was shot down in the act of writing, remember."

A silence fell between them on this declaration-a silence terminated by Barrant remarking that it was really late, and he must be getting back to Penzance. Mr. Brimsdown made no suggestion to accompany him. Instead he rustled papers in Robert Turold's cabinet as though to convey the impression that the sorting and searching of them would take him some time. Barrant, from whose eyes speculation and suspicion looked out from a depth, like the remote glance of a spider which had scurried to a hole, gave a slight sign of farewell, and wheeled out of the apartment without another word.

Downstairs he went, plunged in the deepest thought. Looking downward, he saw Thalassa escorting Dr. Ravenshaw to the front door. The doctor's voice reached him.

"… She must not be left alone on any account-understand that. You ought to get somebody to look after her."

"I can't afford nobody," Thalassa made reply.

Dr. Ravenshaw was about to say something more, but the figure of the descending detective caught his eye. Barrant made a detaining gesture, and the doctor waited in the passage for him. Barrant, with a slight glance at the motionless figure of Thalassa, led the way into the front room. He closed the door before he spoke.

"Doctor," he said, "have you told anybody about those marks on Robert Turold's arm?"

"I have not," said the doctor promptly, looking up. "Why do you ask?"

His glance carried conviction, and interrogation also. But it was Barrant's province to ask questions, not to answer them. He ignored Dr. Ravenshaw's.

"There's another matter, doctor," he continued. "One of the coast fishermen has a story that when Robert Turold was out on the moors he used to hasten home with great strides, like a man who feared pursuit. Did you ever observe this peculiarity in him?"

"I have observed that he used to walk at a quick pace."

"This was more than a quick pace-it was almost a run, according to the fisherman-looking backward over his shoulder as he went."

"I did not notice that, but I should not be surprised if it were true, with a man of Robert Turold's temperament."

"He feared pursuit-some unknown danger, then?"

"I cannot say. He may have suffered from agoraphobia."

"What is that?" asked Barrant.

"The dread of open spaces."

"I have heard of claustrophobia-the dread of closed spaces-but not of this."

"It is common enough-an absurd but insurmountable aversion to open spaces. The victims are oppressed by a terrible anxiety when crossing a field. I have known a man who would be terrified at the idea of crossing Trafalgar Square."

"What is the cause of agoraphobia?" asked Barrant.

"It is a nervous disorder-one of the symptoms of advanced neurasthenia."

"Did Robert Turold suffer from neurasthenia?"

"His nervous system was in a state of irritable weakness through the monomania of a fixed idea," was the reply-"too much seclusion and concentration on one object, to the exclusion of all other human interests."

"How's your patient?" said Barrant, giving the conversation an abrupt turn.

"What patient do you mean-Mrs. Thalassa?" asked Dr. Ravenshaw in some surprise.

"Yes. I gathered from what I overheard you say to Thalassa that you have been attending her."

"I have been attending her since Mr. Turold's death."

"She is in a strange condition," observed Barrant reflectively. "I was questioning her the other night, but I could get nothing out of her. She seems almost imbecile."

"She is not a woman of strong mind, and she is now suffering from a severe shock. She should be looked after or taken away from here altogether, but her husband seems quite indifferent."

"Do you think she will recover?"

"It is impossible to say."

"How do you think the shock was caused?"

"I should not like to hazard an opinion on that point, either," replied Dr. Ravenshaw gravely. He glanced at his watch as he spoke. "I must be going," he said.

They left the house together, but branched off at the gate-Dr. Ravenshaw to visit a fisherman's dying wife, and Barrant to seek the Three Jolly Wreckers for supper before returning to Penzance.

From the kitchen window Thalassa watched them go: the doctor walking across the cliffs with resolute stride, the detective making for the path over the moors with bent head and slower step, as though his feet were clogged by the weight of his thoughts. Thalassa watched their dwindling forms until they disappeared, and then stood still, in a listening attitude. The sound of the lawyer stirring in the study overhead seemed to rouse him from his immobility. He closed the door, and stood looking up the staircase with the shadow of indecision on his face.

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