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   Chapter 26 No.26

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 23207

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


He saw her white face sharply uplifted in the darkness, and caught the startled gleam of her dark eyes. Then she recognized him.

"You!" she breathed. "Oh, Charles, how did you find me?"

"It was chance, Sisily-but no, it was something deeper and stranger than chance." He spoke in a tone of passionate conviction. "I have been walking London day and night, seeking for you. I felt sure I should find you sooner or later. I had given up hope for tonight, though. It was so late-so late-" The tumult of his feelings checked his utterance.

"I dare not go out earlier," she whispered.

That was a reminder which brought him back sharply to the reality of things. He looked anxiously around him in the dark and empty street. In the vulgar expression they were both "wanted"-wanted by the police. The danger was doubled now that they were together. That was a freezing thought which had not occurred to him during his search for her. It occurred to him now.

"I wonder where we could go and talk in safety?" he murmured-"and decide what is best to do."

"We might go to where I am staying," she unexpectedly suggested. "It is at the end of this street."

"Would that be quite safe?" he hazarded doubtfully.

"I think so. Mrs. Johns told me that she would be very late to-night. She goes to spiritualistic meetings, and does not return home until early morning sometimes. We should be alone, and free to talk. There is nobody else in the house."

He was too eager to raise any doubts of the safety of the suggested harbourage. Their conversation, which had been carried on in suppressed and whispered tones, ceased as they advanced along the quiet street. Near the end Sisily turned into the small garden of an unlighted house. She unlocked the hall door, and they entered. He saw her bending over the hallstand, and guessing her intention, struck a match. She took it from him in silence, lit the hall gas, and shut the front door carefully. Then she struck another match from a box on the hallstand, and preceding him into a room on the right, lit the gas there.

It was a small sitting-room, simply and almost shabbily furnished, remarkable for some strange articles which were heaped at random on various small tables. There was a planchette, a tambourine, and other more mysterious appliances which suggested that the inmate spent much time with the trappings and rappings of spiritualism. Papers and journals devoted to spiritualism were scattered about the room, and framed "spirit photographs" hung on the walls.

Charles was not thinking of the interior of the room. His one thought was of Sisily. He had not seen her clearly in the dark street. She appeared to him now unchanged, her dear face as he had last seen it, her features luminous with tender feeling, her dark eyes dwelling gravely on him, just as she used to look. As she stood there, the realization of his haunting dreams, he had to fight down an impulse to take her in his arms. But it was not the moment for that. Because of the graveness of their situation, love had to stand aside.

"Sisily, why did you go away?" he asked at length.

She did not immediately reply, but lowered her glance as though collecting her thoughts. His look fastened with anxious scrutiny on her downcast face. She did not raise her eyes as she answered.

"I had to go, Charles," was all she said.

"Why did you not tell me, Sisily?" he said in a tone of reproach. "Why did you not let me know, that last day on the cliffs?"

He failed to understand the glance she cast at him as he asked these questions, but it seemed to contain an element of surprise, almost astonishment. Absorbed in his own gloomy thoughts, he went on.

"Do you remember what you told me about your mother's old nurse, and our memory pictures of her name? I thought you had gone there. So I went to Charleswood to look for you."

"I did think of going there. I intended to when I left Cornwall," she hurriedly rejoined. "Then, afterwards, I thought it best not to. I stayed at a private hotel in Euston Road on my first night in London, but did not like it, and next day I went to a boarding-house near Russell Square. I meant to write to Mrs. Pursill from there, telling her my mother was dead. But that night after dinner I heard some of the boarders talking of-the murder, and I knew I couldn't go to Charleswood-then. I left that place early next morning, and came here. I had been walking about all the morning, not knowing what to do, when I saw the card in this window saying that there was a room to let. Mrs. Johns told me she wanted to let the room more for company than anything else, because she lived alone. I was glad to find it, and grateful to her."

"You have known all along that the police are looking for you?" he said gravely.

"After I heard them talking at the boarding-house," rejoined simply. "One of the women had an evening paper, and read it aloud to the others. I knew then, of course. The woman kept looking at me as she read as though she suspected that I was the missing girl. I was very nervous, but tried to pretend that I didn't notice, and left the room as soon as I dared." "What about this Mrs. Johns-does she suspect anything?" he asked anxiously.

"Oh, no. She is a very unworldly kind of woman, and thinks of nothing but spiritualism. She never reads newspapers."

"Do not talk about it," he said suddenly, as though this picture of her wanderings was too much to be borne. "Why did you go away from Cornwall without a word? You said you had reasons. What were they, Sisily?"

"I will tell you-now." The soft difference in the tone of the last word was too femininely subtle for him to understand. "That afternoon, when my father was talking to you all in the front room downstairs-do you remember?"

"Yes, yes," he said impatiently.

"I heard something-I was at the door."

"It was you, then, and not Thalassa, who looked through the door!" he said, glancing at her curiously.

"I did not mean to listen," she replied, flushing slightly. "I was going out to the cliffs-to the Moon Rock. I was very unhappy, and wanted to be alone with my thoughts. On my way past the door something my father was saying reached me. It concerned me. I did not take it in at first, or understand what it really meant. As I stood there, wondering, my eyes met my aunt's through the opening in the door, and I saw her spring to her feet. I hurried away because I did not want to see her. I wanted to think over what I had just heard, to try and understand what it meant.

"I went down to the Moon Rock, and sat there, thinking and thinking. They were so strange and terrible, those words I had overheard, but they were so few that I did not really guess then all that they meant. All I knew was that there was some dreadful secret behind them, some secret of my mother's which had something to do with me. I wished that I had heard more. As I sat there, wondering what I ought to do, you came-"

"To tell you that I loved you, that I shall love you as long as I live," he interrupted eagerly.

Again a faint flush rose to her cheeks, but she hurried on: "I could not tell you that I loved you while those dreadful words of my father were ringing in my ears. I wanted to see him first, to question him, to know if I had partly guessed the truth, or if there was any loophole of escape for me. Oh, do not think any worse of me now if I tell you that I loved you then and shall always love you. I wanted to tell you so that day by the Moon Rock, but I knew that I must not."

"Why not?" His louder voice broke in on her subdued tones impetuously. "You should not have sent me away, Sisily. That was wrong. It has brought much misery upon us both."

"It was not wrong!" she replied, with unexpected firmness and a momentary hardness of glance, which reminded him of her father's look. "It was because I was nobody-less than that, if what I thought was true. There was your position to think of. You were to come into the title-my father told me that before."

"Damn the title!" the young man burst out furiously. "I told you that day I would have nothing to do with it. Why did you think about that?"

"Because I've heard of nothing else all my life, I suppose," she rejoined with the ghost of a smile. "I couldn't tell you then that I loved you, because of it, and other things. Now, it is different. It does not matter what I say-now." She spoke these words with an underlying note of deep sadness, and went on: "When you told me that you loved me I saw my duty plainly. I knew I must go away and hide myself from you, from everybody, go somewhere where nobody knew me, where I would never be known. But I wanted to see my father first, to make sure."

"I understand," he muttered in a dull voice.

"I thought it all out on the way to the hotel with my aunt. I determined to go back and see my father that night. I felt that I could not sleep until I knew the whole truth. I left the dinner table as soon as I could, and hurried down to the station to catch the half-past seven wagonette to St. Fair.

"I got out of the wagonette at the cross-roads, and walked over the moors. When I reached Flint House I knocked at the door, and Thalassa let me in. I told him I wanted to see my father, and he said he would wait downstairs and take me back across the moors when I came down.

"I ran upstairs and knocked at the door of my father's study. He did not reply, so I opened the door and went in. He was sitting at his table writing, and when he looked up and saw me he was very angry. 'You, Sisily!' he said-'what has brought you here at this hour?' I told him I had come to hear the truth from his own lips. I asked him to tell me everything. He gave me one of his black looks, but it did not frighten me-nothing would have frightened me then. He seemed to consider for a moment, and then said that perhaps, after all, it would be better if he told me himself.

"So he told me-told me in half-a-dozen sentences which seemed to burn into my brain. I sat still for a while, almost stunned, I think; then, as the full force of what he had told me came home to my mind, I did something I had never done before. I pleaded with my father-not for my own sake, but for my mother's. I told him I would go anywhere, do anything, if he would only keep her secret safe. I might as well have pleaded with the rocks. He sat there with a stern face until I went down on my knees to him and begged him to think about it-to keep it secret for a little while at least. He grew angry, very angry, at that. I remember-I shall never be able to forget-his reply. 'A little while?' he said, 'and the claim for the title is to be heard next week. I'm to postpone my claim for the sake of your mother, a --'"

Sisily broke off suddenly, her white face flaming scarlet, her eyes widely distended, as though that last terrible scene was again produced before her vision. Charles Turold watched her mutely, with the understanding that nothing he could say would bring comfort to her stricken soul.

She continued after a pause-

"I left him then. I knew that I should never be able to speak to him again. Downstairs, Thalassa was waiting for me. He had a letter in his hand. He looked at me, but did not speak, just opened the door, and we went out across the moors. We went silently. Thalassa was always kind to me, and I think that somehow he understood. It was not until we were nearing the cross-roads that I turned to him and said quickly, 'Thalassa, you must not tell anybody that I saw my father tonight.'

I wanted to keep it secret, I wanted nobody to know-never. I knew my father would not talk, it was not of sufficient consequence to him. He thought of nothing but the title. Thalassa promised that he wouldn't. 'Nobody will ever find out from me, Miss Sisily,' he said.

"Thalassa went back, across the moors, and I waited by the cross-roads till the wagonette came. When I got back to the hotel I went up to my room and to bed. I do not know what time it was next morning when my aunt came into my room, and told me that my father was dead. She did not tell me much. There had been a terrible accident, she said, and he had been found dead in his room. I did not feel shocked, only … indifferent. I did not even wonder what had happened-not then. Afterwards I overheard one of the maids in the corridor telling another that it was suicide.

"That made no difference to me, except that I wanted more than ever to get away. I formed my plans quickly, to go to London that day, but not by the express. I knew my aunt would not go back that morning after what had happened, but I thought her husband might have to go on business. And the express is always crowded. I did not wish to be seen and brought back. So I decided the slow midday train would be safest for me. I waited for a time, and then I was able to slip away from the hotel without being noticed, while my aunt was out. I got to London that night, feeling lonely and miserable. I knew I had done right, but I could not help thinking … of you."

She ceased. Charles Turold got up from his seat and took a turn round the room, then came back and stood looking down at her as she sat with her hand resting on the dark polished surface of the table. His first words seemed to convey some inward doubt of the adequacy of the motive for disappearance which her story revealed.

"You should not have gone away like that, Sisily," he said soberly. "There was no reason, no real reason, I mean. Where was the necessity, after what I told you? Why should your father's death have made you more anxious to go? It seems to me that you had no reason then."

She looked at him sadly in her first experience of masculine incomprehension of woman's exaltation of sacrifice in love, but she did not speak. He continued. "But we must think of what's to be done." He walked up and down the room again, considering this question with compressed brows. He stopped, struck by a thought, and looked at her. "The police have been trying to find out from Thalassa whether you went back to Flint House that night, but he will not tell them anything. So they suspect him also."

She roused at that. "Oh, they must not!" she cried in distress. "Poor Thalassa! He must tell them the truth."

"The question is-what is the truth?" It flashed through his mind as he spoke that his interrogation was the echo of one put to him by his father before he left Cornwall.

"The truth is, that Thalassa and I left the house together that night before it happened. Oh, cannot they believe that? Cannot it be proved?"

"I could tell them when you left," he said in a low tone.

"You!" she cried, looking at him with a kind of fear. "How do you know?"

"Because I saw you. I was standing outside, close to the house."

"Why were you there?" she put in quickly.

He was slower in answering. "I had gone to see your father-about you. I was standing there, thinking … waiting, when the front door opened, and you and Thalassa came out. I was surprised to see you, but it seemed to me an opportunity-a final chance-to speak to you again. I started after you, Sisily, once more to ask you to consider my love for you, but you and Thalassa were swallowed up in the darkness of the moors before I could reach you. I followed with the intention of overtaking you, but I got lost on the moors instead, and was wandering about in the blackness for nearly half an hour before I found my way back to Flint House again."

"Could you not tell them-the police-that?" she asked, a little wistfully.

"It would be useless," he solemnly replied.

"What do you mean?" she said breathlessly.

His rejoinder was a long time in coming. When his set lips moved the words were barely audible. "Because I would not be believed. Because I went straight up the path to the house, determined to see your father before it grew later. The front door was open, and the house seemed in complete darkness. I entered, and went upstairs. There was a light in your father's study. I found your father-dead." He fixed care-worn eyes upon her. "That story sounds incredible, even to you, doesn't it? But-"

"Oh!" That startled cry seemed wrung from her involuntarily. Then, swiftly, as if her mind had detached itself to look on her own actions that night through his eyes: "You thought, you believed that I-" She checked herself, but her look completed the thought.

"I did not know what to think, but I did not think-that," he gloomily rejoined. "Afterwards, the next night, I found out something which made me think-" He paused.

"Yes, yes, tell me what you thought," she said nervously.

"I thought it was Thalassa."

She shook her head.

"Who was it then? The latest theory of the police is that I had something to do with it. They're looking for both of us. They must have found out that I was at Flint House that night. It's too late to tell them the truth now, not that they were likely to have believed me at any time. Why, my own father believes that I did this thing." He laughed discordantly. "I tried to convince your father's lawyer of your innocence, and I might have told him the truth if he had been sympathetic. I don't know, though," he added anxiously. "I had to consider your position all along. If my story was disbelieved it only made it worse for you. If it was not Thalassa, who could it have been? Have you any idea-the faintest suspicion?"

Again she shook her head. She made an effort to look at him, but there were tears in her eyes for the first time. His hand was resting on the table, and she touched it gently with her fingers.

"We must find out." He spoke loudly, as if with the idea that a firm utterance lessened the tremendous difficulty of that performance.

"What can we do?" Her tone was hopeless enough.

"Let me think." He fiddled with the planchette on the table as though he had some notion of invoking the shade of Robert Turold to answer the question. "Had your father any enemy? Did he fear anybody?"

She raised thoughtful eyes to his in reply.

"My father feared nobody," she said, "at least, I do not think so. Nobody had any real influence over him except Thalassa."

"What sort of an influence?"

"It is difficult to describe," she hesitatingly answered. "Thalassa could take liberties which nobody else would have dared. He used to go into his room at any time. Sometimes I have awakened late at night and heard the murmur of their voices coming from my father's study."

"Anything else?" he said, looking at her keenly.

"There was never any question of Thalassa leaving us," she went on. "Wherever we went, and we were always going to some fresh part of England about the title, Thalassa went also. Perhaps it was because he had known him for so long that my father allowed Thalassa to do things which nobody else could do. Thalassa used to sneer about the title, and say no good would come of it. They had a quarrel once, long, long ago. I was a very little girl at the time, and I can just remember it," she added dreamily.

She was apparently unconscious of the significance of these revelations, but they made a deep impression upon Charles. There was something expectant and cruel in his face as he listened-the aroused instinct of the hunter. He addressed her-

"This bears out what I have believed all along. Thalassa knows about the murder. He is mixed up in it in some way."

"Oh, why do you think that?" she exclaimed, clasping her hand in distress.

"Why?" he echoed. "Because your father was not the man to stand insolence from Thalassa or anybody else unless he had to. Thalassa must have had him under his thumb in some way. Why did I not know of this before? It's clear enough now. Thalassa, even if he did not commit the murder-"

"He did not," she said quickly. "He left the house with me, so he could not have done it."

"Then he knows who did. He and your father shared some secret together-some dreadful secret which brought about your father's death. That is one reason why Thalassa will not speak-because he is implicated in this mystery, whatever it is."

"No, no. He is keeping silence because of me-I feel sure. I made him promise not to tell."

Charles Turold shook his head decidedly. "He may have more than one reason for keeping silent," he said with a swift flash of intuition. "If it is as you say, he is shielding himself as well as you. If your father was killed while Thalassa was out of the house that night, Thalassa knows who did it."

Her eyes met his in an agony of perplexity and distress. "Oh, no, I cannot think you are right," she said. "If I could only see Thalassa-for five minutes-"

"What good would that do?" he abruptly demanded.

"He would tell me the truth-if he knew."

He shook his head incredulously. "You do not know all," he murmured. He shrank from telling her of the marks on her father's arm. "I know Thalassa," she eagerly replied. "He would tell me if he thought it would help me."

"If you think that I will go down and see him-and get it all out of him."

"No, no! You must not go," she cried in affright. "It would not be safe for you."

"Would it be any more dangerous than hiding in London like a skulking rat?" he bitterly replied. "This cannot go on. We are both in a dangerous position, and might be arrested at any moment. What would happen then? Who would believe my story-or yours? They sound improbable even to ourselves. Here, at least, is a chance of discovering the truth, for I most solemnly believe that Thalassa knows it, or guesses it. What other chance have we of finding out the hideous mystery of that night? I must go, Sisily. I will be careful, for your sake."

She knew by his voice that he was not to be deterred from the hazardous enterprise, so she did not attempt to dissuade him further. But she clung to him trembling, as though she would have shielded him from the menace of capture. He was thinking rapidly.

"It may be that I shall fail," he said. "I do not think so, because I shall take every precaution, but the police will be watching for me in Cornwall as well as here. If I fail-if I do not come back … you will understand?"

Her look answered him.

"You had better watch the papers. And be careful on your own account." He eyed her anxiously. "Do you think you will be safe here till I get back?"

"Yes-I think so," she murmured sadly.

"Very well. I will go down by to-night's train-I've just time to catch it." He glanced at his watch with an assumption of cheerfulness. "When you wake up in the morning I shall be in Cornwall."

"I shall not sleep," she said, in a miserable broken voice. "I shall lie awake, thinking of you."

He caught her swiftly in his arms, and kissed her on the lips. "If I find out the truth, nothing shall come between us then, Sisily?"

"No, nothing," she said.

He turned with a sudden swift movement as though to go, but she still held him.

"Tell Thalassa … that I ask him to tell you the truth, if he knows it…."

She released him then, and stood looking after him as he walked from the room and out of the house.

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