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   Chapter 32 No.32

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 9475

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The wind tapped angrily at the windows of Flint House, the rain fell stealthily, the sea made a droning uneasy sound. The fire which burnt on the kitchen hearth was a poor one, a sullen thing of green boughs and coal which refused to harmonize, but spluttered and fizzed angrily. The coal smouldered blackly, but sometimes cracked with a startling report. When this happened, a crooked bough sticking up in the middle of the fire, like a curved fang, would jump out on to the hearthstone as though frightened by the noise.

Thalassa sat on one side of the fire, his wife on the other. Her eyes were rapt and vacant; he sat with frowning brows, deep in thought. Robert Turold's dog crouched in the circle of the glow with amber eyes fixed on the old man's face as if he were a god, and Thalassa lived up to one of the attributes of divinity by not deigning to give his worshipper a sign. Occasionally the dog lifted a wistful supplicating paw, dropping it again in dejection when it passed unregarded.

Presently Thalassa got up and went to a cupboard in the corner. From some hidden receptacle he extracted a coil of ship's tobacco and a wooden pipe shaped into a negro's head, with little beads for eyes, such as may be bought for a few pence in shops near the London docks. He returned to his seat, filled the pipe, lit it with a burning bough, and fell to smoking with lingering whiffs, gazing into the fire with dark gleaming eyes as motionless as the glinting beads in the negro's carved head.

The clock on the mantel-piece ticked steadily away in the silence. The dog, with a brute recognition of the unsatisfactory nature of spiritual aspiration, descended to the care of his own affairs, and scratched for fleas which knew no other world than his hind-quarters.

"Go away, go away! You mustn't come in here!"

The shrill voice of Mrs. Thalassa broke the silence like a cracked bell, shattering her husband's meditations, and causing the dog to spring to his feet. Thalassa looked at her angrily. She was making mysterious motions with her hands, as if expostulating with some phantom of her thoughts, muttering and shaking her head rapidly. Her husband stared across in silence for a moment.

"By God! she doesn't improve with age," he growled; then, louder: "What's the matter with you? What are you making that noise for?"

The question went unheeded. To his astonishment she sprang to her feet with a kind of grotesque vivacity, and, darting over to the window, began gesticulating again with an angry persistency, as if to some one outside.

Thalassa left his seat and went to the window also. His wife had ceased her gestures, and stood still listening and watching. Thalassa pulled back the blind, and looked out. The moor and rocks were draped in black, and the only sounds which reached him were the disconsolate wail of the wind and the savage break of the sea on the rocks below. He looked at his wife. She had started tossing her hands again at some spectral invisible thing in the shadowy night. She was quite mad-there could be no doubt of that. He endeavoured to lead her back to her seat by the fireside, but she broke away from him with surprising strength, and again her voice rang out-

"Go away … go away! You can't come in. I won't let you in. You're a wicked girl, Miss Sisily, and I won't let you in. You killed your father, and you'd like to kill me, but I'll keep you locked out. Go away!" Her voice rose to a screech.

The blood rushed to Thalassa's head as he listened to these words. He understood quite suddenly-this was not a demented raving. Sisily had been there-she had come back to him in her fear-and she had been driven away. He turned to his wife and caught her up in his great arms, shaking her violently, as one shakes a child. The sight was terrible and absurd, but there was no one to witness it but the dog, who circled round and round in yelping excitement, as though the scene was enacted for his benefit alone.

"Has Miss Sisily been here?"

The question thundered out in the empty silence. Mrs. Thalassa crouched like a preposterous hunched-up doll on the seat where her husband had flung her, looking up at him with stupid eyes, but not speaking. He approached her again.

"Speak, woman, speak, or I'll strangle you."

She backed away, whimpering with fear. "No, no, Jasper, leave me alone."

"Has Miss Sisily been here?"

The sight of those long outstretched hands, by their menace to her life, seemed to restore her reason. "Yes," she mumbled.

"When?"

"This evening-before dark-when you were out."

"And you wouldn't let her in?"

"No."

"How did you know it was her?"

"She knocked at the door, and I looked out of the window."

"Di

d you see which way she went?"

"Over by the cliffs, where she used to go."

Thalassa repeated these last words mechanically. Anger possessed him, but apprehension stirred in his heart. Sisily had trusted him, she had come back to him, and he had failed her. That had been at six o'clock, and it was now nine. Three hours, and there had been a storm. Where was she? Had she been out in the storm?

He searched in the cupboard for a lantern, lit it, and made for the door, followed by the dog. As he flung open the door the wind rushed in with such force that it beat him back, and the candle in the lantern flickered and lengthened like a naked flame. He fought his way out furiously, slamming the door behind him.

Outside, the rocks crouched in the darkness in nameless shapes. Thalassa prowled among them, struggling desperately with the wind, telling himself that she was safe-yes, by God, she was safe. Of course she wouldn't stay on the rocks in that storm. She would seek shelter. "Where?" asked something within him mockingly, "Where would she dare go, except to you?" He stood still to reflect. "She might go to Dr. Ravenshaw's," he said aloud, as though answering an unseen but real questioner. "Fool!" came the reply, "you know she would not go to Dr. Ravenshaw's. She would not dare." And fear gripped his heart coldly.

He stumbled on again, bruising and cutting his limbs among the rocks. As he went he kept calling her name-"Miss Sisily" at first, and then, as his fear grew stronger, "Sisily, Sisily!" The wind wailed back to him, but that was all.

He stopped again to reflect. It was useless looking for her in the darkness. He could do nothing until the moon was up. The sky was already beginning to brighten with the coming light. So he stood where he was, waiting.

In a quarter of an hour the moon showed above the horizon, slurred through the rain, like a great drowned face. Higher and higher it rose until the black curtain lifted off the moors, and the light shimmered on little pools left after the rain, made fretwork in the shadows of the rocks, and fell upon the surface of the sea. And as the moon rose the hideous uproar of wind and sea began to die away.

Thalassa threw down the lantern, and resumed his search. Carefully he explored in and out among the rude masses of rock, beating farther and farther away from the house, cautiously skirting the perpendicular edge of the cliffs, looking over, and backing away again. His wider cast brought him at length to where the Moon Rock rose from the turmoil of the sea. He crept on hands and knees to the bald face of the cliff, and looked down.

By the light of the moon something caught his eye far below-something white and small, showing distinctly against the black glistening base of the Moon Rock. He could not discern what it was, but a nameless terror seized him, and his jaw dropped as he crouched there, gazing. Then he scrambled to his feet with a wild cry, and made for the path down the cliffs to the pool. It was some distance from where he was, but there was no shorter way. He rushed recklessly along the cliff edge till he reached it, and climbed down.

It was there he found her.

She was lying limp and motionless on the edge of the pool, and the receding tide was still lapping over the shelf of the rock where the sea had flung her.

Thalassa dropped on his knees beside her. "Sisily, Sisily!" he cried hoarsely-"It's me-Thalassa!"

He stooped over her, calling her repeatedly, but she did not reply. Her face showed still and white in the moonlight. He unfastened the front of her dress, and put his hard hand on her soft flesh, but he could not feel her heart beating. He lifted her tenderly in his arms, and she lay against his body inert and cold, her wet head resting on his shoulder. Thus he started the ascent of the cliff.

A giant's strength still lurked in his ageing frame. It was well for him that it did. He had only his feet to depend upon in that long slippery ascent, and the wind tugged at him angrily, as if anxious to jerk him off the path into the sea. But he fought his way up with his burden, though his body was swaying and his head was dizzy when he reached the top.

He did not stop for a moment. Still holding her fast he set out, not for Flint House, but to the churchtown. Dizzy, panting, and staggering, he struggled on across the moors, and as he walked he listened anxiously for any sound from the inanimate form in his arms.

But she lay still and motionless against his breast.

On he went until he reached the churchtown, and made his way up the empty street to Dr. Ravenshaw's house. He turned in the garden gate, and beat with his heavy boot against the closed door.

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