MoboReader > Literature > The Moon Rock

   Chapter 25 No.25

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 22669

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The train was moving out after the briefest stop at a place so unimportant, and he swung himself into one of the carriages gliding past him. At first he thought the compartment was empty, but as the train emerged from a tunnel immediately beyond the station gates he observed a man with glasses reading a newspaper in the opposite corner seat. That reminded him to buy an evening paper at the next stopping place, a town of some importance, where a number of intending passengers were waiting on the platform. Several pushed past him into the compartment. He did not heed them. He sat in a deep reverie, his paper unfolded in his hand, past scenes flowing through his brain as the train sped on towards London. The carriage and its occupants receded from his vision, and he was back again on the Cornwall cliffs with Sisily. Her face appeared before his eyes just as he had seen it in their last parting.

He came back with an effort to the world of events, and unfolded his newspaper. That was a daily ordeal from which he shrank, yet dared not evade. During the past week he had faced it in all sorts of places: street corners, public squares, obscure restaurants, the burrowed windings of Underground stations, and once in the dark interior of a cinema where he had followed a girl with a vague resemblance to Sisily. As the days went on and he read nothing to alarm him, his tension grew less. It really looked as if Scotland Yard and the newspapers had forgotten all about the Cornwall murder, or had relegated it to the list of undiscoverable mysteries.

He now glanced at the headlines listlessly enough. The editor could offer nothing better on his front page that night than Ireland and the industrial situation. Charles opened the sheet and looked inside. His listlessness vanished as his eye fell upon his own name. In the guise of fat black capitals it headed a half-column article about his uncle's death. Charles read it through, slowly and deliberately, to the end. He learnt that there had been what the writer called fresh developments in the case. The police were now looking for another suspect-himself. The detective engaged upon the case had suspicions of the murdered man's nephew for some time past, but had his reasons for reticence-reasons which had now so completely disappeared that Scotland Yard had made public a full description of the young man and the additional information that he was supposed to be in London. Charles found himself reading the description of himself with the detached, slightly wondering air with which a man might be supposed to read his own death notice. He weighed the personal details quite critically. Young and tall. Yes. Good-looking. Was he? Dark blue eyes. Were they? He had never thought about them. Of gentlemanly appearance. That read like the advertisement of a Cheapside tailor-what was a gentlemanly appearance, if he had it? He had always associated it with a cheap lounge suit and a bowler hat. Very well dressed-then followed the description of his clothes. But he couldn't be well dressed and of gentlemanly appearance at the same time!

These preoccupations floated lightly, almost playfully, on the surface of his mind, but the great fact had sunk to the depths like lead. His father's fears had been right, and his departure from Cornwall had drawn attention to his actions on that night. He was-what was the phrase?-wanted by the police. So was Sisily. He was searching for Sisily, and the police were searching for both of them.

What had the police discovered about him? His lips framed the reply. Everything. That was to say, all there was to find out. Obviously they had discovered his visit to Flint House on that night, or at least, that he was out in the storm during the time the murder was committed. His commonsense told him the reason for Barrant's reticence. He had kept quiet in the hope that he would go to his father's house at Richmond, which no doubt had been closely watched. Now that Barrant had come to the conclusion that the man he was after was too clever to walk into that trap, he had confided his suspicions to the newspapers in order to guard all avenues of escape by putting the public on the watch for him.

A feeling of helplessness crept over Charles as he contemplated the incredible ingenuity of the mesh of events in which he and Sisily were entangled. Any moment might terminate his liberty and see him placed under lock and key. Would it help Sisily if he gave himself up and told all he knew? That was a question he had asked himself before, and dismissed it because he realized that his own story might involve her more deeply still. And the loss of time since then, coupled with his own disappearance, intensified the risk which such a course would entail. There was no hope for her in that direction. Where, then, were they to look for hope?

He was recalled to his surroundings by a hand laid on his arm. He started and looked round. The man next to him, with a glance at the paper in his hand, asked him if he could tell him the winner of the second race at Lingfield. "It ought to be in the stop-press," he murmured. Charles turned the sheet to the indicated column, and the inquirer glanced at it with a satisfied smile, and the remark that it was only what he had expected, in spite of the weight. "A good horse," he remarked approvingly. "But perhaps you don't go in for racing yourself?"

Charles resisted an insane impulse to shout with laughter. Didn't go in for racing! He was going in for racing with a vengeance-a race against time and the police. What was he to do now?

He glanced round him restlessly. The swaying noisy train and the compartment packed with stolid faces jarred on his overburdened nerves. Why were those women in the next compartment laughing like hyenas? What was there in life to laugh over at any time? It was a thing to impose silence on all by its desolation, its unescapable doom. His eye was caught by an advertisement above the rack opposite him-an advertisement which depicted a smiling grotesque face, and advised him to buy the comic journal it represented in order to dissipate melancholy and gloom.

Fools-fools all!

While he was thus looking around him his eyes encountered a curious glance from the man in the opposite corner seat, who had been in the compartment when he entered the train at Charleswood. The man dropped his gaze at once, but there was something in the quality of the look which put Charles on his guard. Charles did not turn his head again, but, leaning back in his seat, kept the other under view from seemingly closed eyes. He was soon convinced that the man in the corner seat was watching him-shooting furtive glances across the carriage from behind the screen of his newspaper.

Was he a detective? Not if Barrant was a usual representative of the tribe. Yet there was something infernally quizzical in the scrutiny which reached him through those gold-rimmed glasses. Stay, though! Did detectives wear glasses? Wasn't there an eyesight test or something like that for officers of the law? He had never seen a policeman wearing glasses. If he was not a detective, why was he watching him? There was no reward offered for his arrest. Perhaps he belonged to the wretched type of beings who pride themselves on their public spirit-men who wrote letters to the newspapers and interfered in other people's business. The beast might have guessed his identity and wanted to show his public spirit by handing him over to the police. The newspaper in his hand! Of course. He had read his description there, and identified him.

Charles found himself conjecturing how the man would set about carrying out his task of public watchdog, if that was in his mind. He pictured the possibility of him appealing to the others in the compartment. He might get up and say: "There is a murderer in this compartment. I recognize him from the description in this paper, and I call upon you all as public-spirited citizens to see that he does not escape justice." The torpid passengers would start up, staring and looking foolish after the fashion of English people when asked to do something unusual. Would they help? There was a stout man opposite with the symptoms of a public spirit lurking in the creases of his fat self-satisfied face. Charles promised himself that he would give them a fight for it. He counted his chances. He was aware from his previous journey to Charleswood that the train he was in now ran through to Charing Cross without another stop. Perhaps the man in the corner seat would wait until they arrived there, and then give him in charge. That was a disconcerting possibility, but he could see no way of guarding against it unless he chose to drop from the train, now travelling at nearly forty miles an hour, taking the risk of being maimed or killed. He considered the advisability of that. It was a chance he might have taken casually enough on his own account, but he had also to think of Sisily. She would be quite friendless if he were killed. Besides, there was also the chance that he might be mistaken in interpreting the man's intentions by his own fears. At all events he seemed to have no thought of springing up and denouncing him. Charles decided to wait and trust to luck to escape in the crowd at Charing Cross if the man made any move there.

In ten minutes the train was running into Charing Cross station at slowing speed. Charles's mouth closed tightly, and his face flushed.

The man in the corner seat flattened his newspaper into a pocket, opened the carriage door, and sprang out on to the platform. Charles followed him quickly, and stood still watching him make his way towards the barrier. He saw him press through, give up his ticket, and disappear without so much as a backward glance.

There was something so ridiculous in this anticlimax to his poignant fears that the young man was for the moment actually exasperated. But his face and linen were wet with perspiration. Then a great feeling of relief swept over him like a cooling wave. He followed in the wake of the other passengers and emerged from the station into the street.

It was early enough for the shops to be still open, but the streets were thronged with pleasure-seekers going to restaurants and places of amusement. As he stood there a painted girl touched him on the arm with an enticing smile for such wares as she had to sell, and her solicitation awakened him sharply to the folly of standing in the lighted Strand at that hour in full view of every passing policeman. He walked slowly away, debating where to turn his steps. An outfitter's shop displaying overcoats gave him a bright idea. He walked inside and selected a long dark coat which reached to his heels, putting it on over the light and fashionable coat he was wearing. The shopman seemed surprised at his choice, but made no comment as he took his money and handed him his change. Charles caught a glimpse of himself as he went out, and was satisfied with his changed appearance. In that shapeless garment he was no longer likely to catch the eye of any unduly curious observer as a "well-dressed" man.

He now walked swiftly. Turning out of Chandos Street from the Strand, he avoided the brightly lit proximity of Leicester Square, and plunged

into the crooked dark streets on the other side of Charing Cross Road. He reached New Oxford Street, crossed it, and continued along obscure streets, his head bent forward, in the unconscious habit of a man thinking deeply as he went.

In the first feeling of dismay at the discovery that the police were looking for him he had been overwhelmed by a sense of catastrophe. With the passing of that phase he was able to consider the situation with a cooler brain, and it now seemed to him that his position was not so precarious as he deemed it in the light of that shock. He knew London, and might be able to evade arrest indefinitely if he took precautions and avoided risks. But Sisily was in different case. He recalled her telling him that she had only been in London once, as a child with her father. Her inexperience of London was her greatest danger, because it was likely to attract attention. The only one to whom she could look for help was himself.

His determination to find her was doggedly renewed as he thought of that. He accepted the lengthened odds against him with the desperate dark courage of a spirit which had always regarded life as a gamble against unseen forces holding marked cards. The police were searching for him? Very well. He would pit his wits against theirs, and continue his own search for Sisily with a caution he had hitherto disdained to use.

Courage and caution! Those were the two qualities he must use in adroit combination. The plight of both Sisily and himself was desperate enough now without giving the enemy a chance by recklessness. He was like a man rowing a small boat in the immensity of a dark sea which threatened every moment to engulf him. Sisily was somewhere in that darkness, and she must be rescued. If his own cockleshell went down there could be no succour for her. That was a thought to make him keep afloat-to keep on rowing.

And suppose that he did find her, as he believed he would, sooner or later-given time. What was to happen then?

That thought pursued him in his walk that night, and was his constant companion in the lonely days and nights of his wanderings which followed. He had banished it before, but that course was no longer possible. The impalpable yet terribly real menace of authority overshadowing them both now made it imperative that all the facts should be faced. All the facts-but what were they? It was the question he asked himself again and again as he strove to twist out of the black fantasy of that horrible night some tangible shred of truth which might help them both. His own incredible share in it was forever being re-enacted in his mind, and haunted his dreams. In the night, at early dawn, at odd moments of his eternal quest, the curtain of his mind would rise on that unforgettable scene-the cliffs, the rocks, the darkling outline of Flint House, with a feeble beam of light slanting down from the upstairs window at the back which looked out on the sea. Then the gush of light from the open door, and her shape stealing forth into the darkness, followed by another-Thalassa's. And then, the final phase-the desolate house, the wind rushing noisily along dark passages, the dead form of Robert Turold in the room upstairs. What did these things mean, and what was to be the end?

His hope was that Sisily could reveal something which would furnish the key to the enigma of that night's events. From her lips he might learn enough to guide him to the hidden truth, and save them both. Sustained by the feeling that she existed somewhere near him, he continued his search day after day until in the abstracted intensity of his fancy London assumed the appearance of a wilderness of unending streets filled with pallid faces which flitted past his vision like ghosts. But the face he was seeking was never among them.

He searched with the wariness of one whose own liberty depended upon his watchfulness. A second glance, an indignant look, a turn of the head, a policeman's casual eye-any of these things would place him immediately on his guard and turn his footsteps in a different direction. He chose his sleeping places with care at the last minute, and left them at early morning when only a yawning night porter or a sleepy maid servant was astir. He never returned to the same place, nor did he go to the same restaurant twice. Most carefully did he read the newspapers, but nothing appeared in their columns to alarm him; merely an occasional perfunctory paragraph about the Cornwall murder. The favourite adjective in the journalistic etymological garden was culled for the heading, and it was described as an amazing case. Charles felt that the definition was correct enough. Early developments were faithfully promised-by the newspaper. Charles understood very well what was meant by that. It was hoped he would provide the development by falling into the hands of the police. He smiled a little at that, but the unintended warning increased his vigilance.

On the whole he felt tolerably safe in the crowded London streets. It was not as though there was any real hue and cry after him. The lonely Cornwall tragedy had not come into sufficient public notice for that, and now it seemed almost forgotten.

He had his hazards and chances, though in a different way. One was an encounter with a young man of good family whose acquaintance, commenced in France during the war, had continued in London afterwards. The two young men had seen a great deal of each other-dining and going to music-halls together. It was in Leicester Square that Charles saw him getting out of a taxi-cab to enter a hall where a professional billiard match was in progress. He paused midway at the sight of Charles, exclaiming: "Why, Tur-" The second syllable of the name was nipped off in mid-air, and the outstretched arm was dropped, as the patron of billiards took in the cut of his former friend's coat. He gazed at the ill-fitting garment with a kind of astonished animosity, and then his puzzled look shot upwards to the face surmounting it, no doubt with the feeling that he may have been deceived by a chance resemblance. Charles went past him without a sign of recognition, but he felt that the other was still staring after him.

Another day a street musician regarded him curiously from behind a barrel organ which he was turning with the lifeless celerity of one without interest in the sounds created by the process. His card of appeal-"Wanted in 1914; not wanted now"-helped Charles to recall him as a soldier of his old regiment. They exchanged glances across the card. The man gave no sign that he knew his former officer, but Charles had no doubt that he did. He placed a coin on top of the organ and went swiftly on.

A week of increasing strain slipped by, and another commenced. Then Fortune, with a contemptuous good-humoured spin of her wheel, did for Charles Turold what he could hardly have hoped to achieve in a year's effort without her aid.

It was late at night, and he was in a despondent mood after one of his recurring disappointments-this time a graceful slender shape which he had earlier in the evening pursued in a flock of home-going shop-girls until she turned and revealed a pert Cockney face which bore no resemblance to Sisily's. Several hours later he paid another of his visits to Euston Square, which he believed to be the starting-point of Sisily's own wanderings. He felt closer to her in that locality because of that. From Euston Square he walked on aimlessly, engrossed in impossible plans for finding Sisily by hook or crook, until the illuminated dial of a street clock, pointing to half-past ten, reminded him of the passage of time.

He paused and looked round. He was in an area of darkened suburban streets converging on a distant broader avenue, where occasional taxi-cabs slid past into the blackness of the night with the heartless velocity of years disappearing into the gulf of Time.

He turned his steps in the direction of this thoroughfare in order to find out the locality, but stopped half-way at the sight of a coffee-stall on the opposite side of the street. He was hungry and thirsty, and he had learnt to like the safety of these places in his wanderings. The food might be coarse, but there were no lengthy waits between courses; no curious glances from the other patrons. A couple of half-drunken young men were feeding at this stall, and a girl of the streets was standing near them. In the light of a swinging lamp the scene shone clearly in the surrounding darkness-the brass urn, the thick crockery, the head of the stall-keeper bent intently over a newspaper, the munching jaws of the customers, the girl in the background with splashes of crimson paint like blood on her white drawn face.

Charles was about to cross the street, but at that moment a policeman's helmet emerged slowly from the surrounding darkness as if irresistibly attracted by the concentric glow of the light. At the sight of him Charles shrank back into the friendly shadow of his own side of the road. The policeman emerged into the fulness of the light, serene in his official immobility. His slow yet seeing vision dwelt on the painted girl with a gaze as penetrating as that of Omnipotence in its profound knowledge of evil. He strolled towards her with a kind of indifferent benignity with which Providence has also been credited. He raised a hand, omnipotent with the authority of the law. "Better get away from here," Charles heard him warn her, and she disappeared from view in obedience to this command.

So did Charles, but in quite another direction. There was something about these chance manifestations of authority, so lightly exercised, so unhesitatingly obeyed, which never failed to thrill and impress him, as they would have thrilled and impressed any other man in his present position. They seemed to intensify the hopelessness of his own situation. He had a slight feeling of creepiness about the spine as he thought of the narrowness of that escape-though, of course, the policeman might not have identified him. But some day or other it was bound to come-that accidental confrontation which might mean his arrest.

He walked swiftly until he reached the avenue. It was a part of London that he did not know, and appeared quite deserted. He wondered which way he should turn to get back to that area of London where he usually sought a bed.

As he stood there glancing about him irresolutely, his eye caught a glimpse of somebody walking swiftly along-a slight girlish figure dimly visible in the dark vista of the empty street. There was something familiar in the girl's outline-something which caused his heart to give a great maddening jump. As he looked she turned into one of the converging streets.

He raced up the broad road, indifferent at that moment whether the eyes of all the policemen in London were upon him. When he reached the street which had swallowed her he could see nothing of the form which had excited him. Then, far ahead, he again saw it passing under a distant lamp-post and merge once more into the darkness. He ran quickly in pursuit.

The girl heard him coming and looked back anxiously. This time he saw her face. In a bound he was at her side.

"Sisily, Sisily!" he cried. "Oh, Sisily, I have found you!"

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