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   Chapter 23 No.23

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 14301

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"And suppose the police call during your absence?" said Austin Turold, glancing sharply at his son.

"Then you had better tell the truth. I am tired of it all."

"I might ask, with Pilate, What is truth?-in your case."

"You know it already, father, whether you believe me or not."

Austin Turold looked strangely at him-a look in which anger was mingled with something deeper and more searching, as though he sought to reach some secret in the depth of his soul. Impatiently he crossed the room to the fireplace, and stood with his back to the fire, facing his son.

"I do not see that there's any more risk than there was before," said Charles gloomily.

"I say there is," returned his father sharply. "What! Do you suppose you can go off to London like this, leaving me here alone, at such a moment? Do you not see that your unexplained absence, in itself, is likely to bring suspicion upon you, indeed, upon both of us?"

"I cannot help that," returned the young man desperately. "I must go and find Sisily."

"You are not likely to find her. You do not even know that she has gone to London."

"Yes. I have found out that much. She took a ticket by the midday train on the day after-it happened."

"And why do you wish to find her?"

"Because she is deeply wronged-she is innocent."

"You should be able to speak with authority on that point," said Austin, with a cold glance, which the other did not meet. "You are acting very foolishly, rushing off to London on this quixotic mission. You won't find her. Besides, no woman is worth what you are risking in this wild-goose chase. You are jeopardizing your future by an act of the maddest folly."

"There is nothing in life for me but the shadow of things-now," returned the young man in low tones. "I want nothing except to find Sisily and prove her innocence. I'm going to look for her, whatever you say."

Austin Turold made an impatient gesture.

"Very well," he said. "If Providence has made you a fool you must fulfil Providence's decree. Only, I warn you, I think you are going the right way to bring trouble on yourself. That lawyer who was here to-day-what's his name, Brimstone, Brimsdown?-has his suspicions, unless I'm very much mistaken."

Charles turned pale. "What makes you think that?" he asked.

"By the way he watched both of us."

"That accounts for his attitude when I saw him afterwards," said Charles in a startled voice.

"Afterwards-where?"

"I went after him to tell him that Sisily was innocent."

"And what else did you tell him?"

"Nothing but that-nothing that counted, at least."

"Really, Charles, your lack of intelligence is a distinct reflection on me as a parent. Fancy a son of mine trying to make a lawyer's bowels yearn with compassion! I'm positively ashamed of you. Why are you so elementary? The situation must have contained some elements of humour, though. I should like to have witnessed it. Did you call down Heaven's vengeance on the murderer in approved fashion? How did the man of parchments take it?"

"You have no heart," said his son, flushing darkly under this sarcasm. He walked towards the door as he spoke. "I am going," he said. "There is an excursion train through to Paddington to-night, and I shall catch it."

"You are determined on it, then?"

"I should be in an unendurable position if I didn't," replied the young man, and without another word he left the room.

Austin looked after him a little wistfully, as though remembering that the other was, after all, his son. He remained motionless for a moment, then crossed over to the window and looked out. As he stood so his eye was caught by two figures beneath. One was his son, walking down the garden path. The other was Mrs. Brierly, returning to the house. She walked past Charles with downcast eyes, but Austin from the window saw her turn and cast a frightened fluttering glance at the young man's retreating figure. She had seen him, then, but did not want to recognize him. As she hurried up the garden path Austin caught a glimpse of her face, and observed that it was white and drawn.

"What's the matter with my estimable landlady?" he murmured as he withdrew from the window.

His quick intelligence, playing round this incident and seeking to pierce its meaning, grew alarmed. There seemed to be a menace in it. Did she know or guess something of the hidden events of that night, or had she played the spy since? He turned pale as he considered these possibilities. Women had an unerring instinct for a secret once their curiosity was aroused. But he had been careful, very careful. What did she suspect?

He thought over this problem until night fell, and retired to bed with it still unanswered.

But the solution flashed into his mind at breakfast next morning, suddenly, like light in a dark place. He was amazed that he had not seen it before. "If it is that …" he whispered. But he knew it was that; knew also, that it meant the worst. He got up from the table, then forced himself to sit down again and eat. An untouched breakfast tray might quicken the suspicions in the mind of that most treacherous woman downstairs, might hasten her hand. But why had she delayed so long?

He passed the morning between his chair and the window, watching, and listening for footsteps. He saw Mrs. Brierly leave the house early, and wondered if she would return with the police. Another reflection came to his mind. Charles had some inkling, and had fled in time. Perhaps that was just as well, if he got out of England. For himself there was no such retreat, nor did he wish it. He would have to face things out, if they had to be faced, and he did not yet despair of saving the situation, so far as it affected himself. What did that diabolical female know, really? He had a momentary vision of her stealing about the house, prying, watching, listening. He sank into a motionless brooding reverie.

The day passed its meridian, but he still sat there in solitude with his anxious thoughts. As the afternoon declined his hopes rose. Could it be that he was mistaken, that his fears were imaginary? Perhaps, after all-

At that sharp ring of the doorbell downstairs he walked noiselessly to the window, and shrank back with the startled look of a man who has had his first glimpse of the bared teeth of the law. He stood still, listening intently. He heard the door opened, a sharp question, then the sound of ascending footsteps. When the knock came at his own door he was in complete command of himself as he went to open it. He was well aware of the ordeal before him, but he did not show it. There was nothing but ironical self-possession in the glance which took in the figures of Detective Barrant and Inspector Dawfield, revealed on the threshold of the opening door.

Barrant lost no time in coming to the point. "I want to see your son," he said, entering and glancing quickly round the apartment.

"I am afraid that is impossible."

"Why?"

"He is not here."

"Where is he?"

"I think he has gone to London."

Barrant was plainly taken aback at this unexpected piece of news. "When d

id he go?" he demanded.

"Yesterday evening."

Barrant cast a look at Dawfield, which said plainly: "He's had word of this and bolted." His glance returned to Austin. "Can you tell me where he is staying in London?"

"I have not the least idea," returned Austin negligently.

"Does he not live with you?"

"As a rule-yes."

"What is your London address?"

Austin took a card from his case and laid it on the table. Barrant picked it up, glanced at it, and said: "Is your son likely to be there?"

"He may be, but he said nothing to me about going there. He has his own liberty of action, like every other young man of his age. May I ask the reason of these questions, Detective Barrant?"

Barrant did not choose to reply. He drew Inspector Dawfield to the doorway and conferred with him in an undertone. Austin saw Barrant slip the card into his colleague's hand, and Dawfield then hastened away. The inference was plain. Dawfield had been sent off to intercept the flight or start the pursuit. Austin found himself profoundly hoping that his son was by that time out of England.

He had not much leisure to think of that, for Barrant turned towards him again with an annoyance that he did not attempt to dissemble. "Why has your son gone to London-perhaps you can tell me that much?" he exclaimed.

"I gathered from him that it is his intention to look for his cousin Sisily."

"For what purpose?"

"Because he strongly believes in her innocence."

"It is strange that he should have rushed off like this."

"Without waiting for your visit, do you mean? Really, Detective Barrant, may I constrain you to give me some explanation of all this? I want to help you all I can, but your actions savour too much of a peremptory jack-in-the-box, even in these bureaucratic days. What is the object of this visit? Why did you want to see my son?"

"I wished to interview him."

"About what, may I ask?"

Barrant did not immediately reply, but Austin, scanning him furtively, sought to reach his thoughts by the varying shades of expression on his face. It was the state of mind of a man who was at once chagrined, amazed, suspicious, and wondering. The older man could picture Barrant thinking to himself: "This man before me-how far is he involved in this?" And, watching him mutely, Austin steeled himself for a sudden outburst: "You picked up the key. You declared it was suicide. What does that mean-now?"

But he under-estimated Barrant's intelligence. Barrant had no intention of doing anything so crude. The situation was sufficiently awkward as it stood without putting the father on his guard. Austin might guess that he was under suspicion as well as his son, but that did not matter so much. Barrant instinctively realized that flight was impossible for Austin Turold, though he might seek to warn his son not to go near their London home because the police were after him. But that was a warning which would be useless, for the police were ahead of him there. Barrant reflected that he gained nothing by not divulging the object of his visit when the inference of it was so transparently palpable. The disclosure might even serve a useful purpose by lessening Austin's apprehensions in his own case. With this consideration in view he brought it out frankly-

"I wished to question your son about his movements on the night of the murder."

"Is my son suspected-now?"

Barrant winced under the delicate inflection of irony which conveyed in that brief reply the inference of another blunder in his own changing suspicions. That sneer roused the official in him, and it was in a curt tone of command that he said-

"What time did your son get home on the day of the murder?"

"I am unable to say."

"He did not return with you after the funeral?"

"No, he did not."

"Where did he go?"

"These are strange questions, Detective Barrant. I really cannot tell you that either, because I do not know."

He put up his glasses to look at Barrant with an assumption of resentment, but the detective's return glance was hard and searching. "Was your son in to dinner that night?" he asked.

"We have midday dinner, in this house."

"Well, supper. Was he in to supper?"

Austin reflected rapidly. He dared not refuse to answer the question, and any attempt to mislead the questioner would only make things worse when the two women in the house knew the truth.

"Yes. He was in to supper."

"And went out afterwards?"

This was put more as a simple statement of fact than a question. Again, Austin's subtle intelligence could see no better course than truth.

"He did. My son frequently goes out walking of an evening after supper."

"What time did he return-on this evening?"

"I do not know."

"Do you mean that?" Barrant's tone was incredulous.

"I do." The impulse which had dictated his previous answer sprang from the thought that the foolish females downstairs could not contradict it, and he adhered calmly to the course now he was committed to it.

"What time did Thalassa come for you from Flint House with the news that your brother was dead?"

"I do not know the exact time. He called at the police station first."

"Had not your son returned by then?"

"I am unable to inform you. He frequently goes straight to his room when he returns from an evening walk."

"Then you do not know whether he was in or out when you left the house?"

"I assumed he was in, as it was after his usual time for returning."

"You did not go to his room, to see?"

"No. I did not wish to disturb him."

Barrant looked as though there was only one possible construction to be placed on these replies, but he still did not utter the question which Austin feared and dreaded most. In a harsh peremptory voice he said-"Show me your son's room."

In those words he stood revealed as one with all the resources of the law at his back, able to issue commands which other people must obey. The rights of liberty and freedom were in his hands. It needed not that to show Austin Turold how near he stood to the edge of the precipice. The strain of the interview had told on him. This was the first actual buffet of the beast's paw. He led the way to his son's room and watched Barrant go through his intimate belongings with the feeling that intelligence was a flimsy shield against the brutal force of authority. The law in search of prey cared nothing for such civilized refinements as intellect or self-respect. As well try to stop a tiger with a sonnet.

The search revealed nothing, and Barrant went away without another word. A moment later Austin heard him questioning the frightened women on the floor beneath. Listening intently, he made out a fragment of the conversation, sufficient to remove all doubts of the origin of the detective's present visit. Austin's mind flew to the episode he had seen from his window on the previous afternoon. Why in the name of heaven had this Brierly woman been such a fool? Why had she not come to him with her story, and asked for money to shut her mouth? Why was she sobbing and snivelling downstairs now, when it was too late?

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