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   Chapter 22 No.22

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 24024

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Upstairs Mr. Brimsdown made unavailing search among Robert Turold's papers for proofs of his statement about his marriage. The lawyer believed that they existed, and his failure to find them brought with it a belated realization of the fact that he, too, had been cherishing hopes of Sisily's innocence. It was the memory of her face which had inspired that secret hope. That was not sentiment (so Mr. Brimsdown thought), but the worldly wisdom of a man whose profession had trained him to read the human face. Sisily's face, as he recalled it now, had looked sad and a little fearful that night at Paddington, but there was nothing furtive or tainted in her clear glance. He felt that a judge would look with marked attention at such a face in the dock. Judges, like lawyers, and all whose business it is to trip their kind into the gins of the law, scan faces as closely as evidence in the effort to read the stories written there.

But the disappearance of certain papers which had probably been abstracted from that room weighed more in the scale of suspicion against Sisily than her look of innocence. She stood to gain most by the suppression or destruction of the proofs of her mother's earlier marriage. But Mr. Brimsdown could not see that this rather negative inference against the girl brought the actual solution of the mystery any nearer. It did nothing to explain, for instance, the marks on the dead man's arm and his posthumous letter. The letter! What was the explanation of the letter? Was it not an argument of equal weight for Sisily's innocence, suggesting the existence of some hidden avenging figure glimpsed by Robert Turold in time to give him warning of his death, but not in time to enable him to avert it?

There were other things too. What was the meaning of that sly and stealthy shake of the head which Austin Turold had given his son that afternoon. A warning obviously-but a warning for what purpose? Mr. Brimsdown could not guess, but his contemplation of the incident brought before him the image of the restless and unhappy young man, as he stood by the bedside in the next room, pointing to the marks on the dead man's arm. Even in his vehement assertions of Sisily's innocence Mr. Brimsdown had conceived the impression that he was keeping something back. What did Charles Turold know? Did his father share his secret knowledge? Mr. Brimsdown could not answer these questions, and he was greatly perturbed at the way in which they brought a host of other thoughts and doubts in their train. He reflected that the Turolds, father and son, were after all the greatest gainers by their relative's death. The father came into immediate possession of a large and unexpected fortune which he would bequeath to his son. And Austin Turold was not anxious apparently to proceed with his brother's claim for the title.

These were facts which could not be gainsaid, but where did they lead? The trouble was that no conceivable theory covered the facts of the case, so far as they were known. So far as they were known! That was the difficulty. Any line of thought stopped short of the real solution, because the facts themselves were inconclusive. There was much that was still concealed-Mr. Brimsdown felt sure of that.

As he applied his mind to the problem, the definite impression came back to him, and this time with renewed force, that the mystery surrounding Robert Turold's death was something which might not bear the light of day. He set his lips firmly as he considered that possibility. If that proved to be the case it would be his duty to cover it up again. He was an adept at such work, as many of his clients, alive and dead, could have approvingly testified. He had spent much time in safeguarding family secrets. Several old families had found him their rock of refuge in distress. If he had been a man of the people, baby lips might have been taught to call down Heaven's blessings on his discreet efforts. Those members of the secluded domain of high respectability for whom he strived showed their gratitude in a less emotional but more substantial way-generally in the mellow atmosphere of after-dinner conferences … "You had better see my man, Brimsdown. I'll give you a note to him. He'll square this business for you. Safe? None safer."

Mr. Brimsdown did not accept the axiom of a great English jurist that every man is justified in evading the law if he can, because it is the duty of lawmakers not to leave any loophole for evasion. That point of view of justice as a battle of wits, with victory to the sharpest, was a little too cynical for his acceptance. But he believed it to be his duty to safeguard the interests of his client. Robert Turold was dead, and no longer able to protect his own name. It might be that the facts of his death involved some scandalous secret of the dead man's which was better undivulged, and if so it would remain undivulged, could Mr. Brimsdown contrive it. For the time being he would pursue his investigations and keep his own counsel.

The sound of an opening door and a shadow athwart the threshold disturbed his meditations. He looked up, and was confronted by the spectacle of Thalassa advancing into the room with his eyes fixed upon him.

"Well, Thalassa," he said, "what do you want?"

"To ask you something," was the response. "It's this. It's every man for himself-now that he's gone."

He jerked his thumb in the direction of the next room. "He took this house for twelve months, and so it'll have to be paid for. Can I stop here for a bit? I suppose it's in your hands to say yes or no."

His face was hard and expressionless as ever, but there was a new note in his voice which struck the lawyer's keen ear-an accent of supplication. He looked at Thalassa thoughtfully.

"You wish to stay on here until you have made other arrangements for your future-is that so?" he asked.

"That's it," was the brief reply.

Mr. Brimsdown felt there was more than that-some deeper, secret reason. Before granting the request it occurred to him to try and get what he could in exchange. Self-interest is the strongest of human motives, and men wanting favours are in a mood to yield something in return.

"Well, Thalassa," he said, amiably enough, but watching him with the eye of a hawk, "I do not think your request is altogether unreasonable-in the circumstances. I dare say it could be arranged. I'll try to do so, but I should like you to answer me one or two questions first."

"What do you want to know?"

"Was your master's daughter here-in the house, I mean-on the night of his death?"

Thalassa's face hardened. "You, too?" he said simply. "I say again, as I said before, that she was not."

"You said so," rejoined Mr. Brimsdown softly. "The question is-are you telling the truth? If you know anything of the events of that night you may be injuring Miss Turold by your silence."

For a moment Mr. Brimsdown thought his appeal was going to succeed. He could have sworn that a flicker of hesitation-of irresolution-crossed the old man's stern countenance. But the mood passed immediately, and it was in an indifferent voice that Thalassa, turning to go, replied-

"If that's what you're reckoning on, I'd better go and pack my traps."

"Oh, I don't make that a condition," replied the lawyer, acknowledging his defeat in a sporting spirit. "You can remain here and look after the house until you decide what to do. As Robert Turold's old servant you are entitled to consideration. I will help you afterwards, if you will let me know your plans. I am sure that would have been your late master's wish."

"I want nothing from him," Thalassa rejoined, "a damned black scoundrel."

Mr. Brimsdown was shocked at this savage outburst, but there was something so implacable in the old man's air that the rebuke he wished to utter died unspoken. Thalassa regarded him for a moment in silence, and then went on-

"Thank'ee for letting me stop on here a bit. Now I'll tell you something-about him." Again his thumb indicated the next room. "It was the night after."

"Do you mean the night after he met his death?"

"Yes. Some one was upstairs in his room-in this room."

Mr. Brimsdown gave a startled glance around him, as though seeking a lurking form in the shadows. "Here?" he breathed.

"Here, sure enough. I woke up in my bed downstairs, staring wide awake, as though somebody had touched me on the shoulder. I was just turning over to go to sleep again, when I heered a noise up here."

"What sort of a noise?"

"Like the rustling of paper. I listened for a bit, then it stopped. I heard a board creak in the next room, where we'd carried him. Then the rustling started in the other room again, right over my head. The dog downstairs started to bark. I got up, and went upstairs as quickly as I could, but there was nobody-except him. The dog frightened whoever it was, I suppose. Next morning I found the front room window wide open."

"Were there any footprints outside the window?"

"A man doesn't leave footprints on rocks."

"What time was it?"

"It would be about midnight, I reckon."

"Did your wife hear the noise?"

"No. She was in bed and asleep."

"Are you sure you didn't dream this?" Mr. Brimsdown asked, with a shrewd penetrating glance.

"The open window wasn't a dream," was the dogged reply.

"You might have left it open yourself."

"No, I didn't. I close the windows every night before dark."

"And lock them?"

"Not always."

The incident did not sound convincing to Mr. Brimsdown, but his face did not reveal his scepticism as he thanked Thalassa for the information. Thalassa lingered, as if he had something still on his mind. He brought it out abruptly-

"Has anything been seen of Miss Sisily?"

"Nothing whatever, Thalassa."

On that he turned away, and went out of the room, leaving the lawyer pondering over his story of a midnight intruder. Mr. Brimsdown came to the conclusion that it was probably imagination, and so dismissed it from his mind.

He resumed his work of working over the papers, but after a few minutes discontinued his search, and walked restlessly about the room. The air seemed to have the taint of death in it, and he crossed over to one of the windows and flung it up.

The window looked out on the sea, though far above it, but the slope of the house embraced in the view a portion of the cliffs at the side. As Mr. Brimsdown stood so, breathing the sea air and looking around him, he espied a woman, closely veiled, walking rapidly across the cliffs in the direction of the house.

She vanished from the range of his vision almost immediately, but a few minutes later he heard footsteps and an opening door. He was again confronted by the presence of Thalassa on the threshold. But this time Thalassa did not linger. "Somebody to see you," he announced with gruff brevity, and turned away.

The open door now revealed the figure of the woman he had seen outside. She advanced into the room.

"Mr. Brimsdown?" she said.

"That is my name," said the lawyer, eyeing her in some surprise. He recognized her as the woman who had stared after him when he left Austin Turold's lodgings, but he could not conjecture the object of her visit.

"I see you do not remember me," she sadly remarked.

"You are Mrs. Brierly, I think."

"Yes. But I was Mary Pleasington before I was married. I remember you very well, but I suppose that I have changed."

Mr. Brimsdown recalled the name with a start of surprise. He found it difficult to recognize, in the faded woman before him, the pretty daughter of his old client, Sir Roger Pleasington, whose debts and lawsuits had been compounded by death ten years before. He remembered his daughter as a budding beauty, with the airs and graces of a pretty girl who imagines her existence to be of some importance in the world. He recollected that her marriage to an impecunious young artist had caused some sensation in Soc

iety at the time. Marriage had dealt hardly with her, and no trace of her beauty or vivacity remained.

"You are the late Mr. Turold's legal adviser?" she continued, after a pause.

Mr. Brimsdown, always chary of unnecessary words, replied with a slight bow.

"I suppose you have come to Cornwall to investigate the cause of his death?"

Mr. Brimsdown remained silent, waiting to hear more.

"I-I wish to speak to you about that." Her lips quivered with some inward agitation.

"Will you not be seated?" he said, placing a chair for her.

"Will you regard what I have to say to you in strict confidence?" she queried, sinking her voice to a whisper.

"Is it about Mr. Turold's murder?"

"It-it may be."

With the recollection of previous eavesdropping in that house, the lawyer rose and closed the door. "I cannot make a promise of that kind," he said firmly, as he returned to his seat.

"No, no-of course not," she hurriedly acquiesced. "I was wrong to ask it. I have come here to tell you. When I saw you this afternoon I realized that Providence had answered my prayers, and sent somebody in whom I could safely confide. I will tell you everything. I have come here for that purpose."

She seemed to have a difficulty in commencing. Her pale grey eyes wandered irresolutely from his, and then returned. It was with a perceptible effort that she spoke at last.

"What I am about to tell you I have known for some days, but I could not bring myself to the extreme step of going to the police. Sometimes I am inclined to think that it may be only a trifling thing, easily explained, and of no importance. But sometimes-at night-it assumes a terrible significance. I need counsel-wise counsel-about it."

She paused and looked at him wistfully. As though interpreting his nod as encouragement, she went on-.

"Mr. Austin Turold and his son have been inmates of my household for the last six weeks. Mr. Robert Turold arranged it with me beforehand. I had never done anything of the kind before, but our means-my husband's and mine-are insufficient for the stress of these times. After all, people must live."

Mr. Brimsdown's slight shake of the head seemed to imply that this last statement was by no means an incontrovertible proposition, but Mrs. Brierly was not looking at him.

"Therefore, to oblige Mr. Turold we decided to afford hospitality to his brother and son. The terms were favourable, and they were gentlefolk. These things counted, and the money helped. But if I had only known-if I could have foreseen …"

"Mr. Turold's death?" said Mr. Brimsdown, filling in the pause.

"I mean-everything," she retorted a little wildly. "My name is well known. I was in Society once. There is my husband's reputation as an artist to be considered. I would not be talked about for worlds. I acted against my husband's advice in this matter-in taking Mr. Turold and his son. My husband said it was a degradation to take in lodgers. I pointed out that they were gentlefolk. There is a difference. I wish now that I had listened to my husband's advice."

Mr. Brimsdown listened with patient immobility. His long experience of female witnesses withheld him from any effort to hasten the flow of his companion's story.

"They were very nice and quiet-particularly Mr. Austin Turold," she went on. "The son was more silent and reserved, but we saw very little of him-he was out so much. But Mr. Turold did my husband good-his breeding and conversation were just what he needed to lift him out of himself. A man goes to seed in the country, Mr. Brimsdown, no matter how intellectual he may be. Nature is delightful, but a man needs to be near Piccadilly to keep smart. Cornwall is so very far away-so remote-and Cornish rocks are dreadfully severe on good clothes. I am not complaining, you understand. We had to come to Cornwall. It was inevitable-for us. No English artist is considered anything until he has painted a picture of the Land's End or Newquay. The Channel Islands-or Devon-is not quite the same thing. Not such a distinctive hallmark. So we came to Cornwall, and my husband went to seed. That was why I welcomed Mr. Turold's conversation for him. It did him good. My husband said so himself. He derived inspiration-artistic inspiration-from Mr. Turold's talk. He conceived a picture-'Land of Hope and Glory' it was to be called-of a massive figure of Britannia, standing on Land's End, defying the twin demons of Bolshevism and Labour Unrest with a trident. He was working at it with extraordinary rapidity-when this happened.

"On the day of his brother's death we did not see much of Mr. Austin Turold. There was Mrs. Turold's funeral in the afternoon, and when he came home I thought he would prefer to be left to himself.

"He went to his sitting-room, and stayed there. My husband and I retired early that night, but later we were awakened by a very loud knock at the front door. We heard Mr. Austin Turold, who was still up, go down and open it. Then we heard a very loud voice, outside-Mr. Robert Turold's man-servant, it appears. We heard him tell Mr. Austin that his brother had been found shot. Mr. Turold returned upstairs, and some time afterwards we heard him go down again and out.

"I was so upset that I arose and dressed myself to await Mr. Turold's return. I thought he might like a cup of coffee when he returned, so I decided to go downstairs myself and prepare it. As I passed the passage which led to Mr. Charles Turold's room, I noticed a light underneath his door. I rather wondered, as he was still up, why he had not gone with his father, but I was passing on without thinking any more about it when I happened to notice that the light beneath the door was fluctuating in the strangest way. First it was very bright, then it became quite dim, but the next moment it would be bright again.

"That alarmed me so much that I walked along the passage to see what it meant. I thought perhaps the young man had fallen asleep with the window open and left the gas flaring in the wind. I stood for a moment outside the door wondering what I ought to do. Then I heard a crackling sound, and smelt something burning. That alarmed me still more, because I knew no fire had been lit in the room that day. I wondered if the bedroom was on fire, and I knelt down and tried to see through the keyhole.

"At first I could see nothing except a bright light and the shadow of a form on the wall. Then I made out the form of Charles Turold, standing in his dressing-gown in front of the fireplace, in which a fire of kindling wood was leaping and blazing. I could not make out at first what he was doing. He seemed to be stooping over the fire, moving something about. Then I saw. He was drying his clothes-the suit he had worn that day. They must have been very wet, for the steam was rising from them.

"I must have made a noise which startled him, for I saw him turn quickly and stare at the closed door, then walk towards it. I went away as quickly and noiselessly as I could, and as I turned the corner of the passage, out of sight, his door opened, and then closed again. He had looked out and, seeing nobody, gone back into his room.

"I went downstairs to make the coffee and wait for Mr. Turold. I had to wait some time. When I did hear the sound of his key in the door, I went up the hall with a cup of coffee in my hand. Mr. Turold seemed surprised to see me. He looked at me in a questioning sort of way as he took the coffee, and stood there sipping it. As he handed me back the cup he told me in a low voice that his brother was dead. I said that was why I had waited up-because I had heard the knock and the dreadful news. Mr. Turold, in the same low voice, then said he was very much afraid his brother had taken his own life.

"He then went upstairs. I again retired shortly afterwards, but I could not sleep. I was too upset-too nervous. I could not get Mr. Robert Turold's suicide out of my head. It seemed such a dreadful thing for a wealthy man to do-so common and vulgar! Suicide sticks to a family so-it is never really forgotten. It is much easier to live down an embezzlement or misappropriation of trust funds. The thought of it put the other thing-the fire and young Mr. Turold and his wet clothes-out of my head completely, for the time.

"As I was lying there tossing and thinking I heard a light footstep pass my door. I slipped out of bed, and opening the door a little, looked out. I saw Mr. Turold, fully dressed, a light in his hand, turning down the passage which led to his son's room. Then I heard the sound of a creaking door, the murmur of a low conversation, cut short by the shutting of the door. I stood there for a few minutes, and then went back to my bed and fell asleep.

"The next day it all came back to me. I had gone into Charles Turold's room for some reason when he was out, and there, on the hearth, I could see the remains of the fire he had lit overnight to dry his clothes. He had made some clumsy man-like attempt to clean up the grate, but he left some ends of the charred kindling wood lying about."

This final revelation brought a silence between Mrs. Brierly and the lawyer; a silence broken only by the distant deep call of the sea beneath the open window. The silence lengthened into minutes before Mr. Brimsdown found his voice.

"You have said nothing to anybody else about this?" He spoke almost abstractedly, but she chose to regard this question in the light of a reproach. She hurriedly rejoined-

"I did not see the necessity-then. If young Mr. Turold got caught in the storm, and chose to dry his clothes in his room, instead of putting them out for the maid, why should I tell anybody? I did not connect it with his uncle's death. I was under the impression that Mr. Robert Turold had taken his own life. It was not until the detective called to see Mr. Austin Turold that I learnt there was a suspicion of-murder. My maid overheard the detective say something while she was in and out of the room serving tea, and she told me what she had heard. I saw things in a new light then, and I was terribly upset. But I could not see my way clear until you came to the house to-day. Then I decided to tell you."

"Can you tell me what time Charles Turold came in that night?"

"I have no idea. He and his father have separate keys of the front door."

It was evident that she had told all she knew. She rose to her feet in agitation.

"I must go. My husband will be wondering where I am. But tell me, Mr. Brimsdown, do you imagine … Is it possible …" Her voice dropped to the ghost of a frightened whisper.

He evaded this issue with legal caution.

"You have done quite right in coming to me," he replied, as he opened the door for her departure. He held out his hand.

She touched it with trembling fingers, and went away.

Mr. Brimsdown closed the door behind her, and wearily sat down. He had been prepared to do much to shield the name of Turold, but he had not bargained for this. He did not doubt the truth of the story he had just heard, and it gave him a feeling of nausea. What a revelation of the infamy of human nature! The stupendous depth of such villainy overwhelmed him with dismay. The extent of the criminal understanding between father and son he did not attempt to fathom. His mind was filled with the monstrous audacity by which Charles Turold, apparently at the dictate of remorse, had sought to convince him of Sisily's innocence by directing attention to the marks on the dead man's arm which he had probably made himself. Could human cynicism go farther than that? A great wave of pity swept over the lawyer as he thought of the unhappy Sisily, and all that she had been compelled to endure. But why had she fled?

Long he sat there without stirring, until the shadows deepened and the grey surface of the sea dissolved in blackness.

"The police must be told of this," he said at last, in an almost voiceless whisper.

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