Arthur J. Rees.

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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!"




CHAPTER XXVI


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


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Online LibraryArthur J. ReesThe Moon Rock → online text (page 17 of 25)