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   Chapter 34 No.34

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 30654

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"I will pass over as briefly as possible what happened after I was left behind in that horrible place. By the light of the moon I saw them go-from the ridge I saw them put out to sea. I watched them until the boat was a mere speck on the luminous waters, and finally vanished from sight. I was left alone, a desperately wounded man, on an arid sulphurous island, without food or water.

"When I was sure the boat had gone I returned to our camping place, and bound my wounds with strips torn off my shirt. Then I fell asleep. I must have developed fever in my slumber, for I have no clear recollections of the next few days. I vaguely recall roaming like a demented being among those solitudes in search of water, and finding a boiling spring. The water, when cooled, was drinkable. I suppose that saved my life. For food, there was shell-fish and mutton-bird eggs, with no lack of boiling water to cook them.

"I lived there so long that I forgot the flight of time. I became a wild man-a mere shaggy animal, living, eating, and sleeping like a beast.

"I was rescued by a passing steamer at last, rescued without any effort of my own, for I had gone past caring. From the ship they saw me leaping about the naked sides of the volcanic hills like a goat, and they put off a boat. Some lady passengers were badly scared when I was brought aboard-and no wonder. They were very kind to me on that ship. She was homeward bound, and brought me to England. I told the captain my story, but I could see that he didn't believe me, so I told nobody else. Not that anybody wanted to know-really. One's misfortunes are never interesting to other people.

"I had a little money left when I landed in England-not much, but sufficient to take me to my wife and support me until I found Robert Turold. I had left my wife living with her parents in a London suburb. Robert Turold and I had both been in love with her before we left England. She loved me, but he had some strange kind of influence over her-the dominance of a strong nature over a weak, I think. Or perhaps it was a more primitive feminine instinct. He was always the strong man-even then-ruthless, determined. It was strange that he should have loved such a gentle timid creature, though that, perhaps, was not so strange as a man like Robert Turold loving any woman. But love her he did.

"She had a great capacity for affection-she was one of those women who have to love, and be loved. Her guileless face, her appealing eyes, seemed to beseech the protection of a masculine shield in a world which has no mercy for the weak. She was born to be guided, to be led. It was my fear of her simple trustful disposition which led me to urge her to marry me secretly before I left England with Turold. Her parents did not favour me, and they wished their daughter to marry well-there was an aunt from whom she had expectations, and the aunt had a prospective husband in view for her. I feared their joint influence. She consented willingly enough; she was easy to persuade-on the eve of our parting. She clung to me weeping-her husband.

"I was to make enough money to return to England to claim her in a year or so-that was the plan. But I had been absent nearly three when I was left on the island. And another twelve months passed before I reached England again. Four years! A long time. Almost any combination of circumstances can be brought about in such a period. People die, marry, or can be forgotten as though they had never existed. It was my lot to be forgotten.

"I hastened to London, to my wife's old home, and learnt that the family no longer lived there. Where had they gone to? The maid who opened the door could not tell me-she did not know. At my request she went for her mistress. The lady of the house came down to me, a tall slender woman, indifferent, but well-bred enough to be polite. She had taken the house from the Bruntons, she said. It was too large for them after their daughter's marriage. It was dusk, and she could not see my face, but she heard my startled exclamation-'Married? To whom?' To a Mr. Turold-a very suitable match. They had been married for some months, and she was expecting a child.

"How she gathered that last piece of information I do not know. Perhaps she and Mrs. Brunton exchanged letters-women write to one another on the slightest pretexts. That thought made me cautious. Fortunately, I had not given my name. I thanked her, and rose to go. She offered to write down the Bruntons' address for me (they had gone to live in the country), but I said I could remember it. And I got away from the house in the gathering darkness without her actually seeing my face-not that it would have mattered much, if she had.

"I thought it all over that night. I visualized readily enough what had happened. Robert Turold, returning to England with some concocted story of my death, had swept her off her feet, caught her on the rebound. He had returned a prosperous man, and doubtless his love-making was reinforced by Alice's worldly parents and the match-making old aunt. The combination was a strong one, and I was supposed to be dead. So she married him, without breathing a word to anybody of her previous secret marriage to me. I realized that at once. She would be too afraid-left to herself. She would tell herself that it wasn't worth while-that nobody need ever know now. I could imagine her twisting her little hands together in apprehension as she faced the problem-our secret-then gradually becoming calmer as something whispered in her ear that it was her secret now, and need not be told. You see, I knew her nature so well. There are many such natures-gentle souls who shrink from responsibility in a world which, sooner or later, generally sees to it that we are compelled to shoulder the burden of our own acts.

"I was not long in making up my mind. I determined to do nothing. I take no special credit to myself for that decision. The marriage with Robert Turold was an accomplished fact, and my belated reappearance upon the scene would have plunged her in unhappiness. She was about to become a mother, too. That weighed with me. I loved her far too well to injure her or her child. It meant letting Robert Turold go free if I remained dead, but there are other things in life besides money and revenge. Fortunately the position from the practical point of view was simplified by the death of my only relative, my uncle, during my absence from England, who had bequeathed his small property to me-not much, but sufficient for my own simple needs.

"I took my uncle's name, the better to conceal my identity, and resumed the medical studies which had been interrupted by my departure from England four years before. When I received my degree I searched for a remote spot where I was not likely to encounter any one who had known me in my past life, and chose this lonely part of the Cornish coast. And here I have remained for thirty years.

"They have not been unhappy years. It was not my disposition to waste my life by hugging the illusions of the past. My days were occupied walking long distances to see my patients scattered at distant intervals on this desolate coast, and my nights I spent in antiquarian and archaeological studies, which were always a favourite pursuit of mine. It was a hobby which earned me some local repute in the course of the years, and was ultimately the means of bringing me face to face with Robert Turold again. That was the last thing in the world I desired to happen. In the early years I used to think of him wedded to my wife, and wonder whether he had succeeded in his great ambition. After a while the memory faded, as most memories do with the passing of the years.

"Then the meeting came-six months ago. I heard Flint House was let, though not to whom. The news did not interest me. But next evening, when I returned from my rounds, my servant met me at the door with the information that the new tenant of Flint House was in the consulting-room waiting to see me.

"I went in. The tall elderly figure sitting there rose at my entrance and said: 'Not a patient, doctor-quite another matter.' I started slightly at the familiar ring to that harsh authoritative voice, but I did not know who he was until he handed me his card. He had already commenced talking about that accursed title as he did so, and he did not notice my agitation. He had come to Cornwall in pursuit of the last pieces of evidence for his family tree, and some local busybody had told him that I was versed in Cornish antiquities and heraldry. That piece of information had brought him to me. He begged for my assistance-my valuable assistance-in elucidating the last scraps of his genealogy from the graves of the past.

"I could have cut him short by laughing aloud-though not in mirth. I had regained my self-command, for I saw that he had not the slightest suspicion to whom he was talking. That in itself was not surprising. I had not recognized him. And how much greater was the change in my own case! Time alters us all in a much less period than thirty years, and there was more than the passage of time. Those months of horrible solitude on that island had changed me into an old man in appearance, with grey hair, and bleared and weak eyes from the sulphur fumes. And Time had made the disguise impenetrable in the thirty added years. I was an old man. My hair and beard were white, and I wore thick glasses. I felt I need be under no apprehension of Robert Turold recognizing me-then, or at any time, unless I was careless.

"His request for my help had a strange fascination for me. There was an uncanny thrill in sitting there within an arm's length of him, meeting his unsuspicious glance, and listening to him with the knowledge that I could have put his plans and ambitions to flight with a single word, and had him begging for mercy. I was in the position of Providence, and withheld my hand, as Providence generally does. My desire to punish Robert Turold had long since died. At sixty, revenge is a small thing. What is human retribution to the ferocity of Time's revenge on us all? Retribution and Justice-these are human catchwords, signifying nothing. What is Justice? Who is to judge when the scales are even? It was easier to comply with his request than arouse suspicion by refusal, but that wasn't what weighed with me. I wanted to see more of him, to win his confidence, if possible. I was curious to know what kind of life he had given the woman for whose sake I had let him go free for thirty years.

"He took a liking to me. My knowledge of ancient Cornish lore proved useful in the final stages of his search-his thirty years' search for a family tree. It was not long before I discovered that he had found no happiness in life. At times his face wore a hunted look-the look of a man who walked his days in fear. His imperfect vision peered out on a darkened world with apprehension, though not of me. In my strange position with him I felt like a ghost permitted to watch, unseen and unsuspected, the travail of a gloomy solitary mind. It was apparent enough, but only to me. My quickened eyes pierced the outward husk and saw within. I thought I had outlived my desire for revenge, but it grew again at the sight of a punishment which was so much more subtle than anything I could have planned. Death would have put his restless soul to sleep, granted him eternal respite. The sufferings of the spirit were a living torment. His was a strange case. His lifelong pursuit of a single idea, his restricted consciousness of one image, had made him morbid, lonely, introspective. And so the past had revisited him, darkening and disquieting his mind. He feared shadows, he was haunted by footsteps.

"Footsteps! I learnt that when he consulted me for sleeplessness. He told me he used to lie awake at night, imagining he heard footsteps pattering on the rocks outside. I knew well enough whose footsteps he was haunted by. I imagined him lying there in that lonely house, sweating with horror, listening … listening. He asked me once, did I believe in ghosts? I told him no, but I said I'd known a case of man returning to life long after he was supposed to be dead. I related the story-one which had come under my observation as a medical man. He listened with gnawing lip and pale face, and from my window afterwards I saw him striding home across the moors, glancing backwards in the dusk.

"It was his own fault that he ever heard those footsteps in the way he feared. He did not play the game, according to our poor conception of what the game is. If he had done so he would have been quite safe from me. But there are some things too shocking to be contemplated, even in the worst of our kind. A man does not give away a woman-that is one of the rules. Robert Turold put a woman to shame in her coffin.

"I had kept out of her way, never going to Flint House because I feared her feminine eyes might be too sharp for me. But she fell ill, and Robert Turold asked me to attend her. Refusal was impossible, as there was no other doctor nearer than Penzance.

"She did not recognize me-at first, but the shock I received when I saw her left me almost stunned. I had carried her memory through the years-the image of a pretty slim girl, with brown hair and eyes, and kind of soft vivacity which was her greatest charm. In her place I found, lying there, a withered grey woman with dim eyes and broken spirit. God knows what she had gone through at his hands, but it had destroyed her.

"It was her death-bed. She was worn out in body and spirit, and had no strength to rally. She was weeks dying, but her life was steadily ebbing all that time. It was a kind of slow fever. She was delirious when I first saw her, and delirious or unconscious, with few lucid intervals, until she died. And the jargon of her wandering mind was in reality the outpouring of a tortured soul. It was the title and the family name-always that, and nothing else. She wasn't well-born enough or sufficiently educated to bear the title as his wife-it seemed that that fact had been impressed on her again and again in the long lean years of the search for the family tree. Let her go away … go away somewhere quietly with Sisily, and she would never bother him any more. That was the unceasing burden of her cry, a cry to which I was compelled to listen with a torn heart.

"The reserve, the frame of mind, which I wore like armour in Robert Turold's company I dropped altogether at her bedside. Her lucid intervals were few, but I was not afraid of her recognizing the old Cornish doctor with his muffler, his glasses, his shaggy white hair and beard. The daily sight of her shrunken ageing features reminded me that I had nothing to fear-that Time had effectually disguised us from each other's recognition. We were old, we two. Life had receded from us-what had we to do with its fever, its regrets, its passions and futile joys? The clock had ticked the time away, the fire was dying out, the hearth desolate and cold. I was resigned before, I was resigned then. I did what I could for her, which was little enough. Human progress, such as it is, has been acquired through the spirit. The body defies us-we have no control over it. So she died-

mercifully unconscious most of the time-and died, as I had hoped, without the least suspicion of the truth.

"You cannot faintly imagine the shock of Turold's announcement on the day of her burial, to me, who had been so arrogantly certain that the secret was safe. If you remember what took place at Flint House on that occasion you will recall that it was a question from me which brought the truth to light. Your brother's answer awakened my suspicions, and made me determined to find out what he actually knew. He brought out the truth then, as I've no doubt now he intended to do in any case.

"The puzzle to me was the exact extent of his knowledge. He knew two things for certain. One was that I had married Alice before leaving England, and the other was that I was still alive. But he obviously did not know that I was Remington. How had he found out the two facts? I guessed that the woman he believed to be his wife had revealed the secret of her earlier marriage on her death-bed, but the other was a problem which I could not solve. Nor did I try to. When I reached home I went mad. The calmness, the self-repression of thirty years, vanished in an instant in the monstrous infamy of that disclosure. There was something too horribly sinister in the character of a man who could be driven by ambition to make such a disclosure without regret, almost without hesitation. He sacrificed and put to shame two gentle creatures at the beck of his implacable mania. For the title he had forfeited tenderness, pity, decency-all the human attributes-with a brazen and unashamed face. That man walked the earth alone. By that act he set himself apart, defying all laws, all feeling-everything.

"As I grew calmer I reflected that he could not defy me. I could bring him tumbling from his lofty perch with a few words. He might brazen out his attitude to the whole world, but not to me. What was more, I could dictate to him-could keep his mouth shut with a threat of reviving the past, of putting him on his trial for robbery and attempted murder thirty years before.

"I determined to do it-to see him and reveal myself, and let him know that my own course of action would be decided by his. If he chose to keep silent, he would have nothing to fear from me.

"I set out across the moors in the darkness. It was raining, and I walked fast until Flint House loomed out of the blackness before me. Then I paused to consider my course of action. I was about to thwart a madman with a fixed idea, in a lonely house where he had in his service another man who could be depended on to make common cause against me when he knew the truth. I was not afraid of Robert Turold, but I was of Thalassa. I knew he was strong enough to hurl me through the window into the sea. These elements in the situation called for caution. I crept across the rocks towards the kitchen window. As I did so I thought I saw a figure move among the rocks, and I ran quickly to the narrow lip of cliff which overhangs the sea at the back of the house. There I stood for awhile, but could hear nothing but the sea raging far down beneath me. I came to the conclusion that I had been mistaken. Who was likely to be prowling round Flint House in a storm-except myself? I crept round the side of the house and looked through the kitchen window.

"Thalassa's wife was in the kitchen, alone, with some playing cards spread out on the table in front of her. But before long the door leading into the passage opened, and Thalassa came in. He sat down, but after the lapse of a few minutes he rose from his chair and approached the window. I shrank back into the shadow of a rock, watching him. He stood looking out into the darkness for perhaps five minutes, then I saw him start, turn his head, and go out of the room. I heard the front door open, followed by the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs. A moment later I heard the murmur of voices in Robert Turold's room upstairs.

"I went nearer to try and find out what had happened, but it was no use. I could see a gleam of light in the study window, and could hear Robert Turold's voice mingled with feminine tones, then-silence, followed once more by the sound of an opening door. From my place of concealment I saw two people going down the garden path-Thalassa and a female figure. They passed through the gate and vanished into the darkness of the moors.

"My opportunity had come. I went to the house and tried the front window. It was unlocked, and yielded. I got through, and went quickly upstairs. A light was shining underneath the study door. I opened it, and saw Robert Turold sitting at his table writing with his back towards me.

"At the sight of that atrocious scoundrel sitting there immersed in his shameful project against a woman I had loved, my self-control gave way utterly, completely. I had intended to be calm, to reason with him, to exact my terms with a cold logical brain. I did none of these things. Without a word of warning, before he even knew I was in the room, I sprang on him, clutching him, shaking him in a blind insensate fury till my strength suddenly failed me and left me sick and giddy.

"'I am Remington,' I said-'Jim Remington.' I leaned against the table, panting and exhausted, looking at him. His self-control was something to marvel at. He just sat still, returning my look with cold motionless eyes, no doubt trying to discern the features of the man he had wronged through the film of age. But in spite of his self-control I could see the grey pallor of fear creeping into his face, and he could not keep his lips from trembling. Twice he essayed to speak, but his mouth refused to utter the words. What he did say was strange to me, when he got it out at last. 'I was right'-I heard him whisper, almost to himself-'I knew, I knew.' He repeated those words several times. It was then I saw that his self-control arose from the fact that although he was terrified he did not appear to be so greatly surprised. Surprised he was, but not in the way I had expected. His prime difficulty seemed to be to get out of his head the identity by which he had known me. 'You are Ravenshaw-Dr. Ravenshaw,' he said. 'How can you be Remington?' He brought out this with an effort, like a man trying to shake off an unreasoning horror.

"I had expected him to face it out, to challenge me, perhaps deny all knowledge of my existence. Instead, he merely sat there staring at me with an air of terrified realization, like a person gazing upon the dreadful materialization of an expected phantom. I told him the truth in the fewest possible words, and he listened silently, never removing his eyes from me, the phantom of his past. When I had finished he lay back in his chair, but his eyes stared up at me with a kind of dead look, like half-closed eyes in a coffin. 'I knew that you were rescued from the island,' he said. 'But I thought you were long since dead.'

"That statement surprised me. I asked him how he had learned of it. He told me it was through the medium of an overheard conversation in a London hotel nearly thirty years before. He had gone up to town to see his lawyer, and one of the people at the hotel where he put up happened to be one of the passengers of the Erechtheus, the steamer which had rescued me. The man sat at the next table, and Turold heard him tell the story to a friend one night at dinner. It had happened just like that-quite simply, but it was a possibility I had overlooked. Not that it mattered, as it happened, but it would have-if Alice had been with him. Turold, of course, kept his knowledge to himself. He was too cautious to approach the passenger, but he instructed his lawyer to make guarded inquiries at the shipping office of the vessel in order to verify the story. Then he returned home, consumed by anxiety, no doubt, to wait for my reappearance. As the months slipped past and I did not appear, hope revived within him. It appears that he had heard the passenger say that I was a wreck-a physical wreck. That must have been a cheering item in a bad piece of news. I can imagine its growing importance in Turold's mind as the time went on and I made no sign. Finally (and thankfully) he reached the conclusion that I was indeed dead, and that he had nothing more to fear. There was an element of uncertainty about it, though, a lack of definite knowledge. I fancy that was one of the reasons which led him to take Thalassa into his service when he turned up some time later. It was a deep and subtle thing to do. Thalassa was bound to help him against me, if ever I came back.

"The years went on, and he grew quite certain, as any man in his position would, in the circumstances. He forgot all about me. That frame of mind lasted until he came to Cornwall, and then, it seemed, I came back into his life in the strangest way. I haunted him in the spirit, and he never once guessed that I might be there in the flesh. Who can explain this?

"As he spoke of it he looked as though he had a grievance against me, as, perhaps, he had-from his point of view. 'You faded from my mind for twenty years,' he said. 'But here-in Cornwall-your memory began to haunt me. It was your footsteps, principally. I used to fancy you were following me across the moors. Tonight for the first time I actually heard them-heard them above the noise of the storm. They came to my ears clear and sharp, around the house, on the rocks, under the window.' He cast on me an appalled, a hopeless glance. 'Why have you left it so long?' he cried. 'What do you want-now?'

"He positively had no glimmering of my feelings. His fixed idea, like a cancerous growth, had sucked all the healthy life out of him. Hot anger stirred within me again, but I retained control of myself this time. I asked him how he had found out about the earlier marriage, and he told me Alice had babbled something in her delirium-enough to arouse his suspicions. It seemed that he had waited for one of her lucid intervals, and wormed the truth out of her. 'The proofs-of course you've obtained them?' I asked casually. Yes, he had the proofs. He had sent to London for them immediately. I asked him where they were. 'What do you want to know for?' he asked in an agitated voice. I told him quite simply, that he must give me his proofs and tell the members of his family that he had been mistaken-that Alice's first husband had really died before she married him. If he agreed to do that he had nothing farther to fear from me-I would remain dead forever. 'You can destroy proofs, but not facts,' he muttered in reply to this. I told him the facts were never likely to come to light if he entered into a compact of silence.

"He sat for a few moments as if contemplating the alternatives I had placed before him-sat with one hand in his table-drawer, seeking for papers, I thought. He desisted from doing this, and said quite suddenly, 'The proofs are in the clock-case.'

"I had no suspicion. He had once shown me a curious receptacle in the bottom of the clock-case, where he kept papers. I went towards the clock, and was stooping over the drawer in the bottom of the case when I heard a swift footstep behind me. I turned. He was approaching with a revolver. The secret of his disclosure and the open drawer were explained. I suppose I owed my life to his dim sight, which compelled him to come so near.

"I sprang at him, and we struggled. That struggle brought down the clock with a shattering crash. Robert Turold and I were locked in one another's arms, wrestling desperately for the revolver, when I saw the great moon face of the clock flit past my vision like the face of a man taking a header off a pier. The crash startled Robert Turold. His hand loosened, and I got the revolver from him. As I tore it from his fingers it went off, and shot him.

"He backed away from me with a kind of frozen smile, then crumpled up and slid to the floor. I bent over him. He made a slight movement, but I could see that he was dying-that he had only a very few moments to live.

"Coolly and rapidly I reflected. The fall of the clock would be heard downstairs. Flight! There was a chance, if Thalassa had not returned. My other instinct was to secure the proofs first, though they were really useless then. I rummaged in the clock-case, and found a large envelope which I stuffed in my pocket. The face stared up at me; the clock had stopped at a minute to nine. I had an idea-an inspiration. I pulled the long hand down to the hour-half-to half-past nine. If I escaped from the house undiscovered, with only that half-stupid little woman downstairs, I would rush across the moors home-call my servant on some pretext as soon as I got in, and ask her the time. Then I should be quite safe-could defy everybody. Make it ten o'clock, then! No-too long to be safe. It might be discovered.

"It is strange how quickly the brain works when the instinct of self-preservation is aroused. These thoughts flashed through my mind in a kind of mental lightning. In the briefest possible space of time I was on my feet and out of the room. I locked the door on the outside, intending to take the key to defer discovery, but it slipped from my fingers in my haste, and fell in the dark passage. I dared not stop to search, for just then I heard a sound-or thought I did. Panic seized me. I feared I was trapped-my escape cut off. I flung precaution aside and went leaping downstairs to the door. I fumbled for the door-catch in the darkness, flung open the door, and ran out into the night-across the moors and home.

"I had hardly got inside before your sister came with her husband to see me-to beg me to go with her to Flint House and reason with your brother. To reason with him! He was beyond the futility of argument, the folly of retort. I did not want to go-at first. Then it dawned upon me that a kindly fate offered me a providential chance of securing my safety. No suspicion could fall on me if I went back-and found the body.

"And so it turned out. We reached Flint House just at the right moment, for me. I broke into the room and found him-dead. He was not where I had left him. In a last paroxysm he had struggled to his feet and fallen across the clock-case, with the intention, as I shall always believe, of putting back the hand of the clock. I think his dying vision saw me alter it, and his last thought-his last effort-was to thwart my intention to mislead those upon whom would devolve the duty of investigating his death. But death was too quick to allow him to carry out his intention."

The cessation of the speaker's voice was followed by silence. Thalassa had nothing to say-no need for words. Austin Turold could not trust himself to speak. It was not that his cynical philosophy of life failed him at that moment. The eternal staging of the drama was the eternal tragedy of the performers. But he was thinking of his son. He had vision enough to realize that in Sisily's death Charles had lost all. His own hardness of outlook melted at that thought. It crumbled his worldliness to ashes, flooded his heart with vain regret, found utterance at last in the whispered words-

"How am I to tell my son?"

His eyes, dwelling on the door of the inner room, revealed the direction of his thought.

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