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   Chapter 29 No.29

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 17818

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Barrant returned to London in the mental disposition of a man who sees an elaborate theory thrown into the melting-pot by an unexpected turn of events. The humbling thought was that he had allowed a second fish to glide through his hands without even suspecting that it was on his line. He had never remotely connected Charles Turold with the murder until Mr. Brimsdown had imparted Mrs. Brierly's disclosure to him. He had acted promptly enough on that piece of information, but once again he was too late.

Austin Turold might have felt reassured if he had known how little his share in the events of that night occupied Barrant's mind during their last interview. The complexion Austin's conduct bore to the detective's reflection was that of a father who had intentionally misled the power of authority in order to shield his son. The law took a serious view of that offense, but it was a matter which could be dealt with at leisure in Austin's case. By his brother's death Austin Turold had become a man of property and standing. It was the drawback of his wealth that he could not disappear like his son. He was to be found when wanted. The main thing just then was to catch the son, or the girl-or both. Barrant went back to London for that purpose.

As the days slipped away without that end being achieved he became worried and perplexed. His own position was an unenviable one, and his thoughts were far from pleasant. He felt that he had failed badly, and that his standing with his superiors in Scotland Yard was under a cloud in consequence. But he could not see where he had actually been at fault. It was such a damned amazing case. In most crimes the trouble was to find sufficient clues, but in this case there were too many. And the inferences pointed different ways. That was the trouble. He was not even sure that in this latest discovery, so annoyingly belated, he had reached the ultimate solution of the facts. It was not that the theory of these two young people committing murder for love was too cynical for belief. He had encountered more incredible things than that in his professional career. Life was a cynical business, and youth could be brutal in pursuit of its aims, especially when the aim was passion, as it usually was. In his experience youth and age were the dangerous periods-youth, because it knew nothing of life, and age because it knew too much. There were fewer surprises in middle-age. That was the period of responsibility-when humanity clung to the ordered way with the painful rectitude of a procession of laden ants toiling up a hill. Youth was not like that-nor age.

No, it was not that. His difficulty was to fit all the circumstances into any compact theory of the case. Try as he would, there were always some loose ends left over, some elements of uncertainty which left him perplexed. He fashioned a new view of the murder, with Charles Turold as the principal figure in it-the actual murderer. He assumed that Charles and Sisily had gone to Flint House that night to prevent the truth about Sisily's birth becoming known. The assertion of her illegitimacy rested upon her father's bare statement, but his lawyer was convinced he would not have made the statement without having the proofs in his possession. These proofs had not been found. Very well. What inference was to be drawn from that? Sisily knew that they were kept in the clock-case, and pointed out the hiding place to her lover. In a struggle for their possession Robert Turold was shot down, or he might have been shot first and staggered to the clock afterwards to see if they had been stolen. Either supposition accounted for the fallen clock, and fitted in with nearly all the known facts of the murder.

Nearly all, but not all! In face of Mrs. Brierly's disclosure it seemed a condition precedent to the elucidation of the mystery to substitute Charles Turold for Thalassa as the person whose undisciplined love for Sisily had led him to shoot her father to shield her name. Nor was it incredible to suppose that he had remained in Cornwall to cover her flight in the hope of diverting suspicion from her. But the loose end in the theory was Thalassa's share in that night's events, and his dogged silence since under strong suspicion.

Thalassa knew more than he had yet revealed, but what did he know? What was his share in the business? It was difficult to say. Barrant was unable to accept the assumption that three people were concerned in the murder. That idea, if not impossible, was at least contrary to reason. But if it was excluded, how was the silence of Thalassa to be explained? Was he afraid? It was as difficult to associate that quality with him as with an eagle or beast of prey.

And the theory failed to explain the reason for Robert Turold's frantic letter to his lawyer on the night of the murder. That was another loose end.

What a case! It was an abnormal and sinister mystery in any light, with no absolute or demonstrative certainty of proof by any of its circumstances, however regarded. The effect of its perplexing clues distorted the imagination, outraged the sense of possibility and experience. To reach conclusiveness in it seemed as impossible as an attempt to scale an unending staircase in a nightmare. The facts were there, but they were inexplicable, or at least they stared at him with the aspect of many faces.

As he weighed these doubts he found his thoughts reverting with increasing frequency to the hood clock in Robert Turold's study and the question of its connection with the crime. He pondered over the point with the nervous anxiety of a puzzled brain, and it seemed to him now that he had not devoted as much investigation to this peculiar clue as it deserved. He recalled Mr. Brimsdown's conversation on the matter. He remembered that he had been struck at the time by the penetration of his remarks about the clock, and while not accepting his fantastic theory, had determined to give more careful thought to the point. But Mrs. Brierly's disclosure put the idea out of his head.

It recurred to him with renewed force when he found himself in Exeter nearly a fortnight later on another case. It was a good opportunity to go on to Cornwall, and he took it. His business completed, he caught the early train, and in due time arrived at Penzance. With an obscure instinct for solitude he hastened through the town and struck out across the moors.

The afternoon was waning when he reached Flint House and pulled the old-fashioned bell-handle of the weatherbeaten door. There was no reply, and a second ring passed disregarded. That was disconcerting and unexpected. He wondered whether Thalassa and his wife had left the place. Then he noticed that the door was merely closed and not shut. He lifted the heavy iron knocker, and knocked loudly. The repeated knocking sent the door flying open, and Barrant found himself looking into an empty hall. Half-way down a pair of curtains stirred slightly and parted suddenly, revealing a narrower passage which led to the door of the kitchen. The curtains streamed horizontally, twisting and coiling like snakes. Barrant stepped quickly inside and closed the door. The curtains fell together again.

There was something so startling in this action of the wind that Barrant stood motionless, looking round him. The cold current of air he had admitted died away in the draughty passages with queer gasping noises, like a wind strangled. Then there was the most absolute silence. The curtains hung perpendicular, as thickly motionless as blankets. Barrant noticed that the hallstand and a chair beside it were thick with dust. Evidently the house was empty.

Turning first to make quite sure that the front door was securely shut, he took his way upstairs to Robert Turold's study.

A point of light, falling through the shattered panel of the closed door, pierced the vague gloom of the passage and hovered on the door of the bedroom opposite-the room into which the dead man had been carried.

Barrant entered the study and looked around him. It was intolerably dirty and neglected; everything was covered with a thick grey dust. Barrant walked over to the clock and regarded it attentively.

What a rascally fat face that moon had! It must have seen some queer sights in old houses during its two hundred years of life. Strange that those old clockmakers could make clocks to last so long, but couldn't keep their own life-springs running half the time! The moral verse was curious enough. Why should a man who spent half his lifetime putting together a clock presume to tell his fellow creatures to make the most of the passing hour?

His reflections took a more practical turn. The clock was the sole witness to the time of the murder. There were two other clocks in Flint House, but nobody had thought of looking at them when the crime was discovered. B

arrant regarded that as a regrettable oversight. It was always important to know the exact time when a murder was committed. Thalassa said that the hood clock was going and kept excellent time, but the value of that secondary testimony was impaired by the fact that Thalassa might not be telling the truth. On the other hand, there was certain presumptive evidence which suggested that he was. It was a proved fact that Mr. and Mrs. Pendleton and Dr. Ravenshaw left the doctor's house in a motor-car for Flint House not later than half-past nine on the night of the murder. Assuming that they covered the journey across the moors in five or six minutes and occupied another five minutes in getting upstairs and breaking in the door, the testimony of the hood clock seemed correct, because Dr. Ravenshaw said death had just taken place, and he and the doctor who made the post-mortem examination were both agreed that Robert Turold could not have lived many minutes after he was shot. Therefore the presumptive evidence seemed to determine the time of death accurately enough.

But that was only a minor phase of the mystery. The real problem was the hidden connection between the clock and the murder. What had brought the clock down, and why had Robert Turold fallen almost on top of it, his outstretched hands resting on the dial? The complete elucidation of the mystery lay behind the obscurity in which these two points were shrouded. To find the answer to them was the surest and quickest way of reconciling all the contradictory facts of the case. But Barrant racked his brains for the reason in vain.

He examined the room. There was a leather-topped writing-table with drawers, several cabinets filled with manuscripts and papers, some walnut chairs with carved legs, and a tall deep bookcase filled with dreary-looking books. His eyes wandered over the titles of the volumes. They also belonged to a bygone period-a melancholy accumulation of works as dead as their writers. Two whole shelves were occupied with the numbers of a forgotten periodical which claimed to give "ample details of the unhappy difference between Queen Caroline of Great Britain and her consort George the Fourth." Barrant wondered idly why human nature was always so interested in the washing of dirty linen. Above these was ranged a row of published sermons. Barrant's eye roamed higher and fell on a fat sturdy volume wedged in between some slimmer books. The title of this book was "Clocks of All Periods." Clocks!

He reached for the volume and placed it on the table. A cursory glance through the pages conveyed the suggestion that it contained more information about clocks than was worth acquiring or writing down. There was a chapter on water clocks, to begin with: "Known to the Egyptians and the Holy Land." Barrant turned the leaves. "The Ancient Chinese used a smouldering wick as timekeeper." Barrant shook his head impatiently. "King Alfred's supposed device of measuring Time by Candles-a Myth." Would to heaven his invention of juries was a myth, too. Scotland Yard would get on much better without them. "A Lamp-clock was another Simple and Ingenious Design." How intolerably long-winded the writer was. What had he to say about hood clocks? "Very few of the Early Clocks had Dials. The Device was generally a Mechanical Figure which struck the Hour on a Bell." Evidently the forerunner of the devilish alarum clock. "Early clockmakers-Old English monks as Clockmakers." The pages flowed rapidly through Barrant's fingers. "Introduction of Minute Hand Marks-Period of Clocks Showing Tides-Longfaced Clocks." Ah, here it was at last-"Hood Clocks."

He began to read the chapter with interest, but as he was about to turn the first page the silence of the room was broken by a faint cackling laugh-an elfin sound which died away instantly. He looked up, startled. His surprise was not lessened at the sight of Mrs. Thalassa watching him from the open doorway. She entered on tiptoe, with a strange air of caution, examining him with restless eyes.

"I heard you," she mumbled. "I saw you go upstairs. Mr. Thalassa was out, and I was afraid to go to the door. I've been playing patience, and it won't come out."

She showed her apron full of small cards. She placed them on the table, and arranged them in rows.

A new idea came into Barrant's mind as he looked at her. If the poor creature had recovered sufficient wits to take to her cards again she might be coaxed to recall what she had seen on the night of the murder. He drew near her. "Can I help you?" he said.

She nodded sideways at him like a child-a child with withered face and grey hair.

Together they bent over the cards. A gull flashed past the window with a scream, as though it had seen them and was repelled at the strange sight.

"Only kings can go into vacant spaces," murmured Barrant's companion, intent on the game.

The result of the game was inconclusive. A king remained surrounded by small cards, like a real monarch overwhelmed by the rabble on May Day. Mrs. Thalassa's eyes strayed mournfully over the rows, then she gathered up the cards and shuffled them again.

"Do you know any other games of patience?" Barrant asked.

She shook her head.

"Then this is the game you were playing on that night?"

"What night?" she whispered.

"The night Mr. Turold was killed."

"I don't want to think of that-it frightens me."

She remembered, then! Her face went grey, but her eyes were alert, watching his.

"Listen to me"-he spoke very gently-"I want to help you get rid of your fear and terror, but to do so I must talk to you about that night. Do you understand?"

The kindness in his voice seemed to reach her feeble consciousness, and she looked at him earnestly.

"Will you try and recollect?"

She seemed to search his eyes for courage, and gave a trembling nod.

"What time was it when you heard the crash upstairs? Think well."

She seemed to make an effort to remember. "I don't know," she said at last.

"Think again. You were playing patience-the game you have just shown me?"

Her eyes turned to the cards on the table. "Yes," she said.

"What time did you commence-can you think?"

She shook her head. "I seem to remember it was half-past eight by the kitchen clock when I started my last game. I was alone in the kitchen then. The game was just coming out when I heard a crash-"

She broke off suddenly with a painful sigh and a frightened glance at the hood clock on the wall.

"One game!" Barrant glanced at his watch with an air of mistrust. "You mean two, don't you?"

Her eyes returned to his. She shook her head with a rapid tremulous motion. "No!" she exclaimed excitedly. "One, only one!"

Barrant cast another glance at his watch, which he Still held in his hand. "You are quite sure you did not play two?" he persisted, with a puzzled glance.

"No, no-one!" She sprang to her feet excitedly.

"Very well-one," acquiesced Barrant soothingly. "One. Go on."

But his effort to calm her came too late. She cast a wild and fearful glance at the wall behind her, as if there was something there which frightened her.

"How it rings-how it rings!" Her indistinct utterance grew louder. "Yes, Jasper, I hear. Yes, sir, I'm coming. Where's the supper tray?"

"Don't be afraid, Mrs. Thalassa," said Barrant, approaching her, but she backed hurriedly away towards the door.

"Coming with the supper tray-coming with the supper tray…. What's that? Ah-h-h-h-h!"

Her disjointed mutterings ended in a shrill scream which went ringing through the stillness and seemed to linger in the room after she had disappeared. Barrant heard her muttering and laughing as she descended the stairs.

The sounds died away into a silence so absolute as to suggest the impression of a universe suddenly stricken dumb. Barrant crossed the room to the window, where he stood looking out, deep in thought.

What was the meaning of it all-of this latest scene in particular? The game of patience so tempestuously concluded had occupied half-an-hour. He had noted the time. Yet Mrs. Thalassa insisted she had played only one game after half-past eight on the night of the murder. If he dared accept such a computation of time an unimagined possibility in the case stood revealed. But-a demented woman. "A parable in the mouth of a fool." Perhaps it was because she was a fool that he had stumbled on this revelation. She lacked the wit to lie about it.

If so-

His eyes, straying incuriously over the outstretched panorama of sea and cliffs beneath the window, fell upon a man's outline scaling the cliff path near the Moon Rock. Disturbed in his meditations, Barrant watched the climber. He reached the top and appeared in full view on the bare summit of the cliffs. Barrant stared down upon him, amazed beyond measure. The advancing figure was Charles Turold.

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