THE MOON ROCK
ARTHUR J. REES
"There is no help for all these things are so, And all the world is bitter as a tear, And how these things are, though ye strove to show, She would not know."
The voice of the clergyman intoned the last sad hope of humanity, the final prayer was said, and the mourners turned away, leaving Mrs. Turold to take her rest in a bleak Cornish churchyard among strangers, far from the place of her birth and kindred.
The fact would not have troubled her if she had known. In life she had been a nonentity; in death she was not less. At least she could now mix with her betters without reproach, free (in the all-enveloping silence) from the fear of betraying her humble origin. Debrett's Peerage was unimportant in the grave; breaches of social etiquette passed unnoticed there; the wagging of malicious tongues was stopped by dust.
Her husband lingered at the grave-side after the others had departed. As he stood staring into the open grave, regardless of a lurking grave-digger waiting to fill it, he looked like a man whose part in the drama of life was Care. There was no hint of happiness in his long narrow face, dull sunken eyes, and bloodless compressed lips. His expression was not that of one unable to tear himself away from the last glimpse of a loved wife fallen from his arms into the clutch of Death. It was the gaze of one immersed in anxious thought.
The mourners, who had just left the churchyard, awaited him by a rude stone cross near the entrance to the church. There were six—four men, a woman, and a girl. In the road close by stood the motor-car which had brought them to the churchyard in the wake of the hearse, glistening incongruously in the grey Cornish setting of moorland and sea.
The girl stood a little apart from the others. She was the daughter of the dead woman, but her head was turned away from the churchyard, and her sorrowful glance dwelt on the distant sea. The contour of her small face was perfect as a flower or gem, and colourless except for vivid scarlet lips and dark eyes gleaming beneath delicate dark brows. She was very young—not more than twenty—but in the soft lines of her beauty there was a suggestion of character beyond her years. Her face was dreamy and wayward, and almost gipsy in type. There was something rather disconcerting in the contrast between her air of inexperienced youth and the sombre intensity of her dark eyes, which seemed mature and disillusioned, like those of an older person. The slim lines of her figure had the lissome development of a girl who spent her days out of doors.
She stood there motionless, apparently lost in meditation, indifferent to the bitter wind which was driving across the moors with insistent force.
"Put this on, Sisily."
Sisily turned with a start. Her aunt, a large stout woman muffled in heavy furs, was standing behind her, holding a wrap in her hand.
"You'll catch your death of cold, child, standing here in this thin dress," the elder lady continued. "Why didn't you wear your coat? You'd be warmer sitting in the car. It's really very selfish of Robert, keeping us all waiting in this dreadful wind!" She shivered, and drew her furs closer. "Why doesn't he come away? As if it could do any good!"
As she spoke the tall form of Robert Turold was seen approaching through the rank grass and mouldering tombstones with a quick stride. He emerged from the churchyard gate with a stern and moody face.
"Let us get home," he said, and his words were more of a command than request.
He walked across the road to the car with his sister and daughter. The men by the cross followed. They were his brother, his brother's son, his sister's husband, and the local doctor, whose name was Ravenshaw. With a clang and a hoot the car started on the return journey. The winding cobbled street of the churchtown was soon left behind for a road which struck across the lonely moors to the sea. Through the moors and stony hills the car sped until it drew near a solitary house perched on the edge of the dark cliffs high above the tumbling waters of the yeasty sea which foamed at their base.
The car stopped by the gate where the moor road ended. The mourners alighted and entered the gate. Their approach was observed from within, for as they neared the house the front door was opened by an elderly man-servant with a brown and hawk-beaked face.
Walking rapidly ahead Robert Turold led the way into a front sitting-room lighted by a window overlooking the sea. There was an air of purpose in his movements, but an appearance of strain in his careworn face and twitching lips. He glanced at the others in a preoccupied way, but started perceptibly as his eye fell upon his daughter.
"There is no need for you to remain, Sisily," he said in a harsh dry voice.
Sisily turned away without speaking. Her cousin Charles jumped up to open the door, and the two exchanged a glance as she went out. The young man then returned to his seat near the window. Robert Turold was speaking emphatically to Dr. Ravenshaw, answering some objection which the doctor had raised.
"... No, no, Ravenshaw—I want you to be present. You will oblige me by remaining. I will go upstairs and get the documents. I shall not keep you long. Thalassa, serve refreshments."
He left the room quickly, as though to avoid further argument. The elderly serving-man busied himself by setting out decanters and glasses, then went out like one who considered his duty done, leaving the company to wait on themselves.
The group in the room sat in silence with an air of stiff expectation. The members of the family knew they were not assembled to pay respect to the memory of the woman who had just been buried. Her husband had regarded her as a drag upon him, and did not consider her removal an occasion for the display of hypocritical grief. Rather was it to be regarded as an act of timely intervention on the part of Death, who for once had not acted as marplot in human affairs.
They were there to listen to the story of the triumph of the head of the family, Robert Turold. Most families have some common source of interest and pride. It may be a famous son, a renowned ancestor, a faded heirloom, even a musical daughter. The pride of the Turold family rested on the belief that they were of noble blood—the lineal inheritors of a great English title which had fallen into abeyance hundreds of years before.
Robert Turold had not been content to boast of his nobility and die a commoner like his father and grandfather before him. His intense pride demanded more than that. As a boy he had pored over the crabbed parchments in the family deed-box which indicated but did not record the family descent, and he had vowed to devote his life to prove the descent and restore the ancient title of Turrald of Missenden to the Turolds of which he was the head.
There was not much to go upon when he commenced the labour of thirty years—merely a few old documents, a family tradition, and the similarity of name. And the Turolds were poor. Money, and a great deal of it, was needed for the search, in the first instance, of the unbroken line of descent, and for the maintenance of the title afterwards if the claim was completely established. But Robert Turold was not to be deterred by obstacles, however great. He was a man with a single idea, and such men are hard to baulk in the long run.
He left England in early manhood and remained away for some years. His family understood that he had gone to seek a fortune in the wilds of the earth. He reappeared—a saturnine silent man—as suddenly as he had gone away. In his wanderings he had gained a fortune but partly lost the use of one eye. The partial loss of an eye did not matter much in a country like England, where most people have two eyes and very little money, and therefore pay more respect to wealth than vision.
Robert Turold invested his money, and then set to work upon his great ambition with the fierce restlessness which characterized all his proceedings in life. He married shortly after his return. He soon came to the conclusion that his marriage was a great mistake—the greatest mistake of his life. His wife had borne him two girls. The first died in infancy, and some years later Sisily was born. His regrets increased with the birth of a second daughter. He wanted a son to succeed him in the title—when he gained it. Time passed, and he became enraged. His anger crushed the timid woman who shared his strange lot. His dominating temperament and moody pride were too much for her gentle soul. She became desperately afraid of him and his stern ways, of that monomania which kept them wandering through the country searching for links in a [pedigree] which had to be traced back for hundreds of years before Robert Turold could grasp his heart's desire.
When She died in the house on the cliffs where they had come six months before, Robert Turold had accomplished the task to which his life had been devoted. Some weeks before he had summoned his brother from London to disclose his future plans. The brothers had not met for many years, but Austin was quick to obey when he learnt that a fortune and a title were at stake. The sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Pendleton, had reached Cornwall two days before the funeral. They were to take Sisily back to London with them. It was Robert Turold's intention to part with his daughter and place her in his sister's charge. For a reason he had not yet divulged, Sisily was to have no place in his brilliant future. He disliked his daughter. Her sex was a fatal bar to his regard. He had heaped so many reproaches on her mother for bringing another girl into the world that the poor woman had descended to the grave with a confused idea that she was to blame.
Sisily had a strange nature, reticent, yet tender. She had loved her mother passionately, and feared and hated her father because he had treated his wife so harshly. She had been the witness of it all—from her earliest childhood to the moment when the unhappy woman had died with her eyes fixed on her husband's implacable face, but holding fast to her daughter's hand, as though she wanted to carry the pressure of those loving fingers into the grave.
A clock on the mantel-piece ticked loudly. But it was the only sound which disturbed the quietness of the room. The representatives of the family eyed one another with guarded indifference. Circumstances had kept them apart for many years, and they now met almost as strangers.
Mrs. Pendleton sat on a sofa with her husband. She was a notable outline of a woman, large and massive, with a shrewd capable face and a middle-class mind. She lived, when at home, in the rarefied atmosphere of Golders Green, in a red house with a red-tiled roof, one of a streetful similarly afflicted, where she kept two maids and had a weekly reception day. She was childless, but she disdained to carry a pet dog as compensation for barrenness. Her husband was a meagre shrimp of a stockbroker under his wife's control, who golfed on Sundays and played auction bridge at his club twice a week with cyclic regularity. He and his wife had little in common except the habit of living together, which had made them acquainted with each other's ways.
Mrs. Pendleton had not seen either of her brothers for a long time. Robert had been too engrossed in digging into the past for the skeletons of his ancestors to do more than write intermittent letters to the living members of his family, acquainting them with the progress of his search. Austin Turold, Robert's younger brother, had spent a portion of his life in India and had but recently returned. He had gone there more than twenty years before to fill a Government post, taking with him his young wife, but leaving his son at school in England for some years. His wife had languished and died beneath an Indian sun, but her husband had become acclimatized, and remained until his time was up and he was free to return to England with a pension. His sister and he met on the previous day for the first time since he had left England for India, and Mrs. Pendleton had some difficulty in identifying the elderly and testy Anglo-Indian with the handsome young brother who had bade her farewell so many years before. And, she had even more difficulty in recognizing the fair-haired little boy of that time in the good-looking but rather moody-faced young man who at the present moment was seated near the window, staring out of it.
The fifth member of the party was Dr. Ravenshaw, who practised in the churchtown where Mrs. Turold had been buried, and had attended her in her illness.
But he had not been asked to share in the family council on that account. His presence was due to his intimacy with Robert Turold, which had commenced soon after the latter's arrival in Cornwall. The claimant for a title had found in the churchtown doctor an antiquarian after his own heart, whose wide knowledge of Cornish antiquities had assisted in the discovery of the last piece of evidence necessary to establish his claim.
Dr. Ravenshaw sat a little apart from the other, a thickset grey figure of a man, with eyes reddened as though by excessive reading, and usually protected by glasses, which just then he had removed in order to polish them with his handkerchief. In age he was sixty or more. His thick grey beard was mingled with white, and the heavy moustache which drooped over his mouth was quite white. He presented a common-place figure in his rough worn tweeds and heavy boots, but he was a man of intelligence in spite of his unassuming exterior. He lived alone, cared for by a single servant, and he covered on foot a scattered practice among the fishing population of that part of the coast. His knowledge of Cornish antiquities and heraldic lore had won him the confidence of Robert Turold, and his kindness to Mrs. Turold in her illness had gained him the gratitude of her daughter Sisily.
It was Austin Turold who caused a diversion in this group of lay figures by walking to the table and helping himself to a whisky-and-soda. Austin bore very little resemblance to his grim and dominant elder brother. He had a slight frail figure, very carefully dressed, and one of those thin-lipped faces which seem, to wear a perpetual sneer of superiority over commoner humanity. The movements of his white hands, the inflection of his voice, the double eyeglass which dangled from his vest by a ribbon of black silk, revealed the type of human being which considers itself something rarer and finer than its fellows. The thin face, narrow white forehead, and high-bridged nose might have belonged to an Oxford don or fashionable preacher, but, apart from these features, Austin Turold had nothing in common with such earnest souls. By temperament he was a dilettante and cynic, who affected not to take life seriously. His axiom of faith was that a good liver was the one thing in life worth having, and a far more potent factor in human affairs than conscience. He had at one time regarded his brother Robert as a fool and visionary, but had seen fit to change that opinion latterly.
He paused in the act of raising his glass to his lips, and looked over the silent company as though seeking a convivial companion. His son was still staring out of the window. The little stockbroker, seated on the sofa beside his large wife, made a deprecating movement of his eyebrows, as though entreating not to be asked. Austin's cold glance roved to Dr. Ravenshaw.
"Doctor," he said, "let me give you a whisky-and-soda."
Doctor Ravenshaw shook his head. "I have a patient to visit before dark," he said, "a lady. I do not care to carry the smell of spirits into a sick-room."
"But this is a special occasion, Ravenshaw," persisted the other. "We do not restore a title every day."
"Austin!" The voice of Mrs. Pendleton sounded from the sofa in shocked protest.
"What's the matter?" said Austin, pausing in the act of pouring some whisky into a glass.
"It would be exceedingly improper to drink a toast at such a moment."
"What's the matter with the moment?"
"The day, then. Just when we have buried poor Alice." Mrs. Pendleton had not seen her brother's wife for ten years before her death, but she had no difficulty in bringing tears to her eyes at the recollection of her. She dried her eyes with her handkerchief, and added in a different tone: "I fancy Robert is coming."
A heavy step was heard descending the stairs. Austin drained his glass, and Dr. Ravenshaw adjusted his spectacles as Robert Turold entered the room.
With parchments and papers deep on the table before him, Robert Turold plunged into the history of his life's task. The long hand of the mantelpiece clock slipped with a stealthy movement past the twelve as he commenced, as though determined not to be taken by surprise, but to keep abreast of him.
An hour passed, but Robert Turold kept steadily on. His hearers displayed symptoms of boredom like people detained in church beyond the usual time. Humanity is interested in achievement, but not in the manner of its accomplishment. And Robert's brother and sister knew much of his story by heart. It had formed the sole theme of his letters to them for many years past. Mrs. Pendleton's thoughts wandered to afternoon tea. Her husband nodded with closed eyes, and recovered himself with convulsive starts. Austin Turold fixed his glance on the ceiling, where a solitary fly was cleaning its wings with its legs. From the window Charles Turold presented an immobile profile. Only Dr. Ravenshaw seemed to listen with an interest which never flagged.
Yet it was a story well worth hearing, that record of indomitable pertinacity which had refused to be baulked by years or rebuffs. Men have acquired titles more easily. That was apparent as Robert Turold related the history of his long and patient investigation; of scents which had led nowhere; of threads which had broken in his hand; of fruitless burrowings into the graves of past generations. These disappointments had lengthened the search, but they had never, baffled the searcher nor broken his faith.
The story began in the fourteenth century, when the second Edward had summoned his trusty retainer Robert Turrald from his quiet home in leafy Buckinghamshire to sit in Parliament as a baron, and by that act of kingly grace ennobled him and his heirs forever. Successive holders of the title were summoned to Parliament in their turn until the reign of the seventh Henry, when one succeeded whose wife brought him three daughters, but no sons. At his death the title went into abeyance among this plurality of girls. In peerage law they were his coheirs, and the inheritance could not descend because not one of them had an exclusive right to it. The daughters entered a convent and followed their parents to the grave within a few years, the Crown resumed the estate, and the title had remained in abeyance ever since.
But the last Lord Turrald had a brother Simon, a roystering blade and lawless adventurer, who disappeared some years before his elder brother's death. Little was known of him except that he was supposed to have closed a brawling career on the field of Bosworth, when Richard the Crookback was killed and the short-lived dynasty of York ended.
The Turolds' family deed-box told a different story. There was a manuscript in monkish hand, setting forth, "in the name of God, Amen," the secret history of Simon, as divulged by him on his deathbed for the information of his two sons. In this confession he claimed kinship with the last Lord Turrald of Great Missenden. But he had not dared to claim the title and rich estates on his brother's death, because he was a proscribed man. He had been a Yorkist, and had fought for Richard. That might have been forgiven him if he had not unhorsed his future king at Bosworth and almost succeeded in slaughtering him with his own reckless hands. So he had fled, and had remained in obscurity and a safe hiding-place after his brother's death, preferring his head without a title to a title without a head.
On this document, unsigned and undated, with nothing to indicate the place of its origin, the Turold family based its claim of descent from the baronial Turralds of Great Missenden. But the Turold history was a chequered one. Their branch was nomadic, without territorial ties or wealth, without continuance of chronology. They could not trace their own genealogy back for two hundred years. There was a great gap of missing generations which had never been filled in. It was not even known how the document had come into their possession. Simon's two sons and their descendants had vanished into unknown graves, leaving no trace. But the family clung fast to their belief that they were the lineal descendants of the Turralds of Buckinghamshire.
It had remained for Robert Turold to prove it. His father and grandfather had bragged of it, had fabricated family trees over their cups, and glowed with pride over their noble blood, but had let it go at that. Robert was a man of different mould. In his hands, the slender supposition had been turned into certainty. By immense labour and research he built a bridge from the first Turold of whom any record existed, backwards across the dark gap of the past. He traced the wanderings of his ancestors through different generations and different counties to Robert Turold, who established himself in Suffolk forty years after the last Lord Turrald was laid to rest in his family vault in the village church of Great Missenden.
The construction of this portion of his family tree occupied Robert Turold for ten years. There were scattered records to be collected, forgotten wills to be sought in county offices, parochial registers to be searched for births and deaths. A nomadic family has no traditions; Robert Turold had to trace his back to the darkness of the Middle Ages. It was a notable feat to trace the wanderings of an obscure family back so far as he did, but even then he seemed as far away from the attainment of his desire as ever. There remained a gap of forty years. To establish his claim to the title he had to prove that the Turolds sprang from the younger brother of the last Lord Turrald, who had allowed the title to lapse for fear of losing his head if he came forward to claim it.
It did not seem a great gap to bridge after following a wandering scent through four centuries, but the paltry forty years almost beat Robert Turold, and cost him five years additional search. It was a lucky chance, no more, which finally led him to Cornwall, but it was the hand of Providence (he said so) which directed his footsteps to the churchtown in which Dr. Ravenshaw lived. It was there he discovered the connecting link in the signature of a single witness on a noble charter which granted to the monks of St. Nicholas "all wreck of sea which might happen in the Scilly Isles except whales." To the eye of Robert Turold's faith the illegible scrawl on this faded scroll formed the magic name of Simon Turrald.
For once, faith was justified by its works. The signature was indeed Simon Turrald's; not the younger brother of the last Lord Turrald, but Simon's son.
Bit by bit, Robert Turold succeeded in fitting together the last pieces of the puzzle which had eluded him for so long. Simon Turrald, the brother, had fled to Cornwall, where he had married a Cornishwoman who had brought him two sons. The elder, Simon, had taken religious vows, and established a priory at St. Fair, a branch of the great priory of St. Germain. The holy fathers of the order had long since vanished from this earth to reap the reward of their goodness (it is to be hoped) in another world, but the remains of the priory still stood on a barren headland near Cape Cornwall. And there was a tomb in St. Fair church, behind the altar, marked by a blue slab, with an indent formerly filled by a recumbent figure. On the blue slab was a partly obliterated inscription in monkish Latin, which yielded its secret to him, and divulged that the remains beneath were those of Father Simon of St. Fair.
With this important discovery to help him, Robert Turold had very little difficulty in completing the particulars of the family genealogy. Further search of the churchtown records brought to light that Simon's other son, Robert, left Cornwall as a young man, and after some years of wandering had settled in Suffolk. Father Simon, of course, died without family, but Robert married, the family name came to be spelt "Turold," and thus was founded that branch of the family of which the last Robert Turold was now the head. The family tree was complete.
Such was the substance of Robert Turold's life quest, and the story had occupied two hours in telling.
"I have petitioned the King's most excellent majesty to terminate the abeyance in my favour and declare that I am entitled to the peerage," he concluded. "I have no doubt that my claim will be admitted. I have set out the facts with great care, and in considerable detail. I have traced a clear line of descent back to Simon Turrald, younger brother of the last baron, and there are no coheirs in existence. Ours is the last surviving branch, or it would, perhaps, be better if I said that Austin and myself, and Austin's son, are the only male members of the family. It is a difficult matter to give effectual proof of a long pedigree, but my lawyer has not the least doubt that the House of Lords will admit the validity of my claim, and will terminate the abeyance in my favour. The Attorney General has inspected my proofs, and I am to appear before the Committee for Privileges next week. In a few weeks at the outside, allowing for the worst of law's delays, I shall be Lord Turrald."
Robert Turold's whole bearing was transfigured as he made this announcement. His sound eye gleamed, his shrunken form seemed to expand and fill, and his harsh sallow features took on an expression which was almost ecstatic. It was his great moment, the moment for which he had lived for twenty years, and it compensated him for all his worry, delayed expectation, fruitless labour, and the bitter taste of the waters of despair.
"I shall be Turrald of Great Missenden," he said, and again the expression of his face showed what the words meant to him.
"Bob! So you've actually succeeded after all!" Mrs. Pendleton stepped quickly across to her brother as he sat regarding his audience from behind his pile of documents. It was like a sister, at that moment, to slip back to the juvenile name and kiss his elderly face with tears in her eyes. Robert Turold received the caress unmoved, and she went back to the sofa.
"Lord Turrald! It sounds well," murmured her husband, whose ideas were sufficiently democratic to give him a sneaking admiration for a title. He gazed at his brother-in-law with a new respect, discerning unsuspected indications of noble blood in his grim visage.
"How do you account for the two forms of spelling your family name?" observed Dr. Ravenshaw. "The House of Lords will require proof on that point, will they not?"
"I shall be able to satisfy them," returned Robert Turold. "The first Robert Turold reverted to the Norman spelling when he settled in Suffolk. Turrald is the corrupted form, doubtless due to early Saxon difficulties with Norman names. The Saxons were never very glib at Norman-French, and there was no standardized spelling of family names at that period."
"It would be interesting to know how the name of Simon came to be bestowed upon the Simon Turrald who fled to Cornwall after Bosworth. The name is Biblical—not Norman. The Normans were pagan, worshipping Woden and Thor, though supposed to be Christianized after Charles the Simple ceded Neustria to Rollo."
"Simon was a good mediaeval name in France and was fairly common in England from the twelfth century until after the Reformation. It was Norman, as being that of an apostle, and was never popular among the Puritans."
"It seems a pity that you cannot claim the Turrald estates," put in Austin. "They must have been immensely wealthy."
"It is quite out of the question," replied Robert decisively. "They have been alienated for centuries. But it has been part of my life's work to provide for the upkeep of the title when I gained it. I shall be able to ensure my heirs an income of nearly eight thousand pounds a year."
It was Mrs. Pendleton's first intimation of the amount of the fortune her brother had gained abroad. "Eight thousand a year!" she exclaimed. "Oh, Robert, it is wealth."
"One could live very comfortably on eight thousand a year," remarked her husband, "very comfortably indeed."
"It's not much to support a title, after the tax-gatherers have taken their pound of flesh in income tax and super-tax," said Austin. "Robert, with his iron frame, will probably outlive a weakling like myself, but if he doesn't I'm sure I shall find it difficult to keep up the title on the money."
"One word!" said Dr. Ravenshaw, with a quick glance at Robert Turold. "This is a barony by writ that you are claiming. Does not your daughter succeed you if you gain it, and not your brother?"
"No," replied Robert Turold. "The next holder of the title, after me, will be my brother, and his son will succeed him."
Little Mr. Pendleton looked questioningly at his brother-in-law.
"A similar question was on my lips," he said hesitatingly. "I know very little of such matters, but in view of our family's probable entry into the ranks of the old nobility I have deemed it my duty to make myself acquainted, to some extent, with the history of the Turrald title and peerage law. It seems a very complicated business—peerage law, I mean—in the case of baronies by writ, but I certainly gathered the impression that a sole daughter can succeed, although several daughters are regarded as coheirs."
"My daughter cannot succeed to the Turrald title," rejoined Robert Turold. The words seemed to be wrung out of him reluctantly.
"It is not for me to question your knowledge—your great knowledge—of English peerage law, Robert," pursued Mr. Pendleton with a kind of timid persistence. "But I brought a book down with me in the train in which I remember reading that the right of a single daughter to succeed to a barony by writ had been well established by the Clifton case and several others. I am not precisely aware what the Clifton case is, but I've no doubt that you are well versed in the particulars of it. As you have no son your daughter has priority of claim over your brother and his son. From what you say I can see that I must be quite wrong, but I'd be glad if you would explain to me."
"You have stated the law accurately enough," said Robert Turold, "but my daughter does not succeed to the title."
Embarrassment, perceptible as a cloud, deepened on Robert Turold's face. He regained his self-control with an effort.
"There was an informality in my marriage," said he at last. "My daughter's birth was irregular."
"Do you mean that she is illegitimate?" asked Dr. Ravenshaw.
Robert Turold inclined his head. "Yes," he said.
At this admission his sister bounced from the sofa with a startled cry. "So that was why there was no name plate on the coffin," she exclaimed. "Oh, Robert, what a terrible thing—what a disgrace!"
"Spare me your protests until you have heard the explanation," Robert coldly rejoined. "She"—he pointed a hand in the direction of the churchyard—"was married before she met me. She kept the fact from me. It was apparently a secret passage in her life. During our long association together she gave no hint of it. She confessed the truth on her deathbed. In justice to her memory let me say that she believed her husband dead."
Robert Turold told this with unmoved face in barest outline—etched in dry-point, as it were—leaving his hearers to fill in the picture of the unhappy woman who had gone through life tormented by the twin demons of conscience and fear, which had overtaken her and brought her down before she could reach the safe shelter of the grave.
Mrs. Pendleton, whose robust mind had scant patience with the policy of cowardice which dictates death-bed confessions, regretted that Alice, having remained silent so long, had not kept silence altogether.
"You do not intend to make this scandal public, Robert?" she said anxiously.
"I am compelled to do so," was the gloomy response.
"Is it necessary?" she pleaded. "Cannot the story be kept quiet—if not for Alice's sake, at least for Sisily's? You must consider her above all things. She is your daughter, your only child."
"I agree with Aunt," said Charles Turold. He rose from the window-seat and approached the table. "Sisily must be your first consideration," he said, looking at Robert Turold.
"This has nothing to do with you, Charles," interposed Austin hastily.
"I think it has," said his son. "You told me nothing about this, you know."
"I was not aware of it myself," replied his father.
"Now that I know, I shall have nothing further to do with this," continued the young man. "I'm not going to help you wrong Sisily."
"I hardly expected such lofty moral sentiments from you," said Austin, with a dark glance.
His son flushed as though there was a hidden sting behind the jibe. He appeared to be about to say something more, but checked himself, and went back to his seat by the window.
"Is there no way of keeping this matter quiet, Robert?" said his sister imploringly.
"I see none," was the rejoinder. "It is a very painful disclosure, but I think it is inevitable. Do you not agree with me, Austin?"
"Do not ask my opinion," his brother coldly replied. "It is for you to decide."
Robert Turold paused irresolutely. "What do you say, Ravenshaw?" he said, glancing round at the silent figure of the doctor. "I asked you to be present this afternoon to have the benefit of your advice. I owe much to you, so I beg you to speak freely."
"Since you have asked my advice," said Dr. Ravenshaw gravely, "I say that I entirely agree with Mrs. Pendleton. Your first duty is to Sisily. She should out-weigh all other considerations. If you make her illegitimacy public you may live to be sorry for having done so."
Mrs. Pendleton cast a moist, grateful glance at the speaker, but Austin Turold turned on him a look of cold hostility.
Robert Turold sat brooding for a few moments in silence. He had asked advice, but his own mind was made up. The humane views of his sister and Dr. Ravenshaw were powerless to affect his decision. The monstrous growth of his single purpose had long since strangled such transient plants as human affection and feeling in his heart and mind.
"The facts must be made public," he said inexorably. "The honour of a noble family is in my hands, and I must do my duty. It would be an insult to my Sovereign and my peers, and a grievous wrong to our family, if I concealed any portion of the truth. I shall make adequate provision for Sisily. You will not refuse to take charge of her, Constance, because of this disclosure?"
"You ought to know me better than that, Robert. She'll need somebody to take care of her, poor child! But who is to tell her the truth? For I suppose she must be told?"
"I want you to tell her," said Robert Turold. "Choose your time. There is no immediate hurry, but she must be in no false hopes about the future. She had better be told before the Investigations Committee meets."
"Bother the Investigations Committee!" exclaimed Mrs. Pendleton. "Really, Robert—"
Mrs. Pendleton broke off abruptly, in something like dismay. She had a fleeting impression of a pair of eyes encountering her own through a crack in the doorway, and as swiftly withdrawn. She walked quickly to the door and flung it open. There was nobody outside, and the passage was empty.
"We have been talking family secrets with the door open," she said, returning to her seat. "I thought I saw one of the servants eavesdropping."
"My servants would not listen at doors," said Robert Turold coldly. "You must have imagined it."
Mrs. Pendleton made no rejoinder. She had a strong belief that someone had been watching and listening, but she could not be sure.
"We must really be going," she announced, with a glance at the clock. "Joseph"—such was her husband's name—"you had better go and see if the car is ready, and I will go for Sisily. Is she upstairs in her room, Robert?"
"I believe so," said Robert Turold, bending abstractedly over his papers. "But you had better ask Thalassa. He'll tell you. Thalassa will know."
Mrs. Pendleton looked angrily at him, but was wise enough to forbear from further speech. She instinctively realized that her brother was beyond argument or reproof.
She went upstairs to look for her niece, but she was not in her room. She came downstairs again and proceeded to the kitchen. Through the half-open door she saw the elderly male servant, and she entered briskly.
"Can you tell me where Miss Sisily is, Thalassa?" she asked.
"Miss Sisily is out on the cliffs." Thalassa, busy chopping suet with a knife, made answer without looking up. There was something absurdly incongruous between the mild domestic occupation and the grim warrior face bent over it.
"When did she go out?" asked Mrs. Pendleton, struck by a sudden thought.
Thalassa threw a swift sidelong glance at her. "It might be an hour ago," he said.
"Do you know where I am likely to find her?"
Thalassa pointed vaguely through an open window.
"Somewhere along there," he said. "Miss Sisily is fond of the cliffs. If you're going to look for her you'd best not go round by the back of the house, or you'll fall over, like as not. It's a savage spot, only fit for savages—or madmen." He turned his back and bent over his chopping board again.
Mrs. Pendleton turned away in perplexity, and walked up the passage to the front door. There her eye fell on the figure of Charles Turold, lounging moodily over the gate, smoking a cigarette.
She walked down the flinty path and touched his arm. "Would you mind going and looking for Sisily?" she said. "She is out on the cliffs, Thalassa says." She pointed a hand in the direction she supposed the girl to be.
The young man's moodiness vanished in eager alacrity. "Certainly," he replied. "I'll go with pleasure." He tossed away his cigarette and disappeared around the side of the house.
Sisily first opened her eyes on a grey day by a grim coast, and life had always been grim and grey to her. Her memory was a blurred record of wanderings from place to place in pursuit of something which was never to be found. Her earliest recollection was of a bleak eastern coast, where Robert Turold had spent long years in a losing game of patience with the sea. He had gone there in the belief that some of his ancestors were buried in a forgotten churchyard on the cliffs, and he spent his time attempting to decipher inscriptions which had been obliterated almost as effectually as the dead whose remains they extolled.
The old churchyard had been called "The Garden of Rest" by some sentimental versifier, but there was no rest for the dead who tried to sleep within its broken walls. The sea kept undermining the crumbling cliffs upon which it stood, carrying away earth, and tombstones, and bones. Nor was it a garden. Nothing grew in the dank air but crawling things which were horrible to the eye. There were great rank growths of toadstools, yellow, blue, livid white, or spotted like adders, which squirmed and squelched underfoot to send up a sickly odour of decay. The only green thing was some ivy, a parasitic vampire which drew its lifeblood from the mouldering corpse of an old church.
It was in this desolate place that the girl conceived her first impression of her father as a stern and silent man who burrowed among old graves like a mole. Robert Turold had fought a stout battle for the secret contained in those forgotten graves on a bleak headland, but the sea had beaten him in the long run, carrying off the stones piecemeal until only one remained, a sturdy pillar of granite which marked the bones of one who, some hundred and fifty years before had been "An English Gentleman and a Christian"—so much of the epitaph remained. Robert Turold hoped that it was an ancestor, but he was not destined to know. One night the stone was carried off with a great splash which was heard far, and left a ragged gap in the cliffside, like a tooth plucked from a giant's mouth.
When Sisily first saw the cliffs of Cornwall she was reminded of those early days, with the difference that the Cornish granite rocks stood firm, as though saying to the sea, "Here rises England."
The house Robert Turold had taken looked down on the sea from the summit. It was a strange place to build a house, on the brink of a broken Cornish cliffline, above the grey surges of the Atlantic, among a wilderness of dark rocks, facing black moors, which rolled away from the cliffs as lonely and desolate as eternity. The place had been built by a London artist, long since dead, who had lived there and painted seascapes from an upstairs studio which overlooked the sea.
The house had remained empty for years until Robert Turold had taken it six months before. It was too isolated and lonely to gain a permanent tenant, and it stood in the teeth of Atlantic gales. The few scattered houses and farms of the moors cringed from the wind in sheltered depressions, but Flint House faced its everlasting fury on the top of the cliffs, a rugged edifice of grey stone, a landmark visible for many miles.
The house suited Robert Turold well enough, because it was near the churchtown in which he was conducting his final investigations. It never occurred to him to consider whether it suited his wife and daughter. It was a house, and it was furnished; what more was necessary? It was nothing to him if his wife and daughter were unhappy. It was nothing to him if the sea roared and the house shook as he sat poring at nights over his parchments in the dead artist's studio. He had other things to occupy his mind than Nature's brutality or the feelings of womanhood.
Sisily had climbed down to the foot of the rocks. She was sitting in her favourite spot, a spur of rock overhanging a green nook in the broken ugliness of the cliffs, sheltered from the sea by an encircling arm of rock, and reached by a steep path down the cliff. Around her towered an amphitheatre of vast cliffs in which the sea sang loud music to the spirit of solitude. In the moaning waters in front of the cove a jagged rock rose from the incomparable green, tilted backward and fantastically shaped, like a great grave face watching the house on the summit of the cliff.
The rock had fascinated the girl from the first moment she had seen it. In the summer months, tourists came from afar to gaze on its fancied resemblance to one of the illustrious dead. But to Sisily there was a secret brooding consciousness in the dark mask. It seemed to her to be watching and waiting for something. For what? Its glance seemed to follow her like the eyes of a picture. And it conveyed a menace by its mere proximity, even when she could not see it. When she looked out of her window at night, and saw only the shadow of the rock with the face veiled in darkness, she seemed to hear the whisper of its words: "I am here. Do not think to escape. I will have you yet."
Among the fisher-folk of that part of the coast it was known as the Moon Rock. The old Cornish women had a tradition that when a fishing-boat failed to return to that bay of storms, the spirit of the drowned man would rise to the surface and answer his wife if she hailed him from the shore. It was a rite and solemn ceremony, now fallen into decay. There was a story of one young wife who, getting no answer, left her desolate cottage at midnight and swam out to the Moon Rock at high tide. She had scrambled up its slippery sides and called her husband from the summit. She had called and called his name until he came. In the morning they were found—the wife, and the husband who had been called from the depth of the sea, floating together in one of the sea caverns at the base of the Moon Rock, their white faces tangled in the red seaweed which streaked the green surging water like blood.
Sisily knew this story, and believed it to be true. Sometimes, when the moon lingered on the black glistening surface of the Moon Rock, she fancied she could see a misty fluttering figure on the rock, and hear it calling ... calling. She would sit motionless at her window, straining her ears for the reply. After a time the response would come faintly from the sea, at first far out, then sounding louder and clearer as the spirit of the husband guided his drowned body back to his wife's arms. When it sounded close to the rock the evanescent figure on the summit would vanish to join the spirit of her husband in the churning waters at the base. Then the face of the Moon Rock seemed to smile, and the smile was so cruel that Sisily would turn from the window with a shudder, covering her face with her hands.
Her strange upbringing may have contributed to such morbid fancies. In his monstrous preoccupation with a single idea Robert Turold had neglected his duty to his daughter. She counted for nothing in his scheme of life, and there were periods when he seemed to be unconscious of her existence. She had been allowed to grow up with very little education or training. She had passed her childhood and girlhood in remote parts of England, without companions, and nobody to talk to except her mother and Thalassa, who accompanied the family everywhere. She loved her mother, but her love was embittered by her helplessness to mitigate her mother's unhappy lot. Thalassa was a savage old pagan whose habitual watchful secretiveness relaxed into roaring melody in his occasional cups; in neither aspect could he be considered a suitable companion for the budding mind of a girl, but he loomed in her thoughts as a figure of greater import than her father or mother. Her father was a gloomy recluse, her mother was crushed and broken in spirit. Thalassa had been the practical head of the house ever since Sisily could remember anything, an autocrat who managed the domestic economy of their strange household in his own way, and brooked no interference. "Ask Thalassa—Thalassa will know," was Robert Turold's unvarying formula when anybody attempted to fix upon him his responsibility as head of the house. Sometimes Sisily was under the impression that her father for some reason or other, feared Thalassa. She could recall a chance collision, witnessed unseen, through a half-open door. There had been loud voices, and she had seen a fiery threatening eye—Thalassa's—and her; father's moody averted face.
From a child she had developed in her own way, as wild and wayward as the gulls which swooped around the rocks where she was sitting. Nature revealed her heart to her in long solitary walks by sea and fen. But of the world of men and women Sisily knew nothing whatever. The secrets of the huddle of civilization are not to be gathered from books or solitude. Sisily was completely unsophisticated in the ways of the world, and her deep passionate temperament was full of latent capacity for good or evil, for her soul's salvation or shipwreck. Because of her upbringing and temperament she was not the girl to count the cost in anything she did. She was a being of impulse who had never learnt restraint, who would act first and think afterwards.
Her dislike of her father was instinctive, almost impersonal, being based, indeed, on his treatment of her mother rather than on any resentment of his neglect of herself. But Robert Turold had never been able to intimidate his daughter or tame her fearless spirit. She had inherited too much of his own nature for that.
At that moment she was sitting motionless, immersed in thought, her chin on her hand, looking across the water to the horizon, where the Scilly Islands shimmered and disappeared in a grey, melting mist. She did not hear the sound of Charles Turold's footsteps, descending the cliff path in search of her.
The young man stood still for a moment admiring her exquisite features in their soft contour and delicate colouring. He pictured her to himself as a white wildflower in a grey wilderness. He could not see himself as an exotic growth in that rugged setting—a rather dandified young man in a well-cut suit, with an expression at once restless and bored on his good-looking face.
He scrambled down the last few slippery yards of the path and had almost reached her side before she saw him.
"I have been sent for you," he explained. "I knew I should find you here."
She got up immediately from the rock where she had been sitting, and they stood for a moment in silence. She thought by his look that he had something to say to her, but as he did not speak she commenced the ascent of the stiff cliff path. He started after her, but the climb took all his attention, and she was soon far ahead. When he reached the top she was standing near the edge looking around her.
"This is my last look," she said as he reached her side. Her hand indicated the line of savage cliffs, the tossing sea, the screaming birds, the moors beyond the rocks.
"Perhaps you will come back here again some day," he replied.
She made no answer. He drew closer, so close that she shrank back and turned away.
"I must go now," she hurriedly said.
"Stay, Sisily," he said. "I want to speak to you. It may be the final opportunity—the last time we shall be alone together here."
She hesitated, walking with slower steps and then stopping. As he did not speak she broke the silence in a low tone—
"What do you wish to say to me?"
"Are you sorry you are leaving Cornwall?" he hesitatingly began.
She made a slight indifferent gesture. "Yes, but it does not matter. Mother is dead, and my father does not care for me." She flushed a deep red and hastily added, "No one will miss me. I am so alone."
"You are not alone!" he impetuously exclaimed—"I love you, Sisily—that is what I wished to say. I came here to tell you."
He caught a swift fleeting glance from her dark eyes, immediately veiled.
"Do you really mean what you say?" she replied, a little unsteadily.
"Yes, Sisily. I have loved you ever since I first met you," he replied. "And, since then, I have loved you more and more."
"Oh, why have you told me this now?" she exclaimed. "You think I am lonely, and you are sorry for me. I cannot stay longer. Aunt will be waiting for me."
He sprang before her in the narrow path.
"You must hear what I have to say before you go," he said curtly. "We are not likely to meet again for some time if we part now. I intend to leave England."
She looked at him at those words, but he was at a loss to divine the meaning of the look.
"You are leaving England?" A quick ear would have caught a strange note in her soft voice. "Oh, but you cannot—you have responsibilities."
"Are you thinking of the title, and your father's money?" he observed, glancing at her curiously. "What do you know about it, Sisily?"
"I have heard of nothing but the title ever since I can remember," she replied.
"I learnt for the first time this afternoon that I was brought down here to rob you," he said gloomily.
"I am glad for your sake if you are to have it—the money," she simply replied.
He answered with a bitter, almost vengeful aspect.
"I would not take the money or the title, if they ever came to me. They should be yours. I will show them. I will let them know that they cannot do what they like with me." He brought out this obscure threat in a savage voice. "If I had only known—if I had guessed that your father—" He ceased abruptly, with a covert glance, like one fearing he had said too much.
She kept her eyes fixed on the lengthening shadows around the rocks.
"Do not take it so much to heart," she timidly counselled. "It is nothing to me—the title or the money. They made my mother's life a misery. My father was always cruel to her because of them, I do not know why. It is in his nature to be cruel, I think. He has a heart of granite, like these rocks. I hate him!" She brought out the last words in a sudden burst of passion which startled him.
"What nonsense it all is!" he exclaimed, suddenly changing his tone. "All this talk about a title which may never be revived. Let them have it between them, and the money too. Sisily, I love you, dear, love you better than all the titles and money in the world. I am not worthy of you, but I will try to be. Let us go Sway and start life ... just our two selves."
"I cannot." She stood in front of him with downcast gaze, and then raised her eyes to his.
Had he been as experienced in the ways of her sex as he believed himself to be, he would have read more in her elusive glance than her words.
"You may be sorry if you do not," he said, with a sudden access of male brutality. "There are reasons—reasons I cannot explain to you—"
"Even if there are I cannot do what you ask," she replied. Her face was still averted, but her voice was steady.
"Then do you want to go with Aunt to London?" he persisted, trying to catch a glimpse of her hidden face.
She shook her head.
"Or to stay with your father?"
"No!" There was a strange intense note in the brief word.
"Then come with me, Sisily. I love you more than all the world. We have nobody to please except our two selves."
"You have your duty to your father to consider."
"Let us leave him out of the question," said the young man hurriedly. "He is as selfish and heartless as—his brother. I tell you again, I'll have nothing to do with this title or your father's money. I will make my own way with you by my side. I have a friend in London who would be only too glad to receive you until we could be married. You are leaving your home to-night, and you are as free as air to choose. Will you come?"
"Of course," he began again, in a different tone, as she still kept silent, "it may be that I have misunderstood. I thought that you had learnt to care for me. But if you dislike me—"
"Do not say that," she replied, turning a deeply wounded face towards him. "It is not that—do not think so. You have been kind and good to me, and I—I shall never forget you. But I—I have a contempt for myself."
"I have a contempt for myself also after this afternoon," he retorted. "Come, Sisily—"
"No, it is impossible. Hark, what was that?" The girl spoke with a sudden uplifting of her head. Above them, from the direction of the house, the sound of a voice was heard.
"It is Aunt calling me," she said, "I must go. Good-bye."
"Is it good-bye, then?"
"It must be. But I shall often think of you."
He had the unforgettable sensation of two soft burning lips touching the hand which hung at his side, and turned swiftly—but too late. She was speeding along the rocky pathway which led to the house.
"Wait, Sisily!" he cried.
A seabird's mournful cry was the only answer. He glanced irresolutely towards the path, and then retraced his steps towards the edge of the cliffs.
A cold sun dipped suddenly, as though pulled down by a stealthy invisible hand. The twilight deepened, and in the lengthening shadows the rocks assumed crouching menacing shapes which seemed to watch the solitary figure standing near the edge, lost in thought.
Through the flowers on the hotel dining-table Mrs. Pendleton was able to watch her niece unnoticed, because the flowers occupied such an unreasonably large space on the little round table set for three. Besides, Sisily had been engrossed in her own thoughts throughout the meal. Mrs. Pendleton was disturbed by her quietness. There was something unnatural about it—something not girlish. She had not spoken once during the drive from Flint House to Penzance, and she sat through dinner with a still white face, silent, and hardly eating anything.
Mrs. Pendleton supposed Sisily was fretting over her mother, but she did not understand a girl whose grief took the form of silence and stillness. She would have preferred a niece who would have sobbed out her grief on her shoulder, been reasonably comforted, and eaten a good dinner afterwards. But Sisily was not that kind of girl. She was strange and unapproachable. There was something almost repellent in her reserve, something in her dark preoccupied gaze which made Mrs. Pendleton feel quite nervous, and unfeignedly relieved when Sisily had asked to be allowed to go to her room immediately the meal was concluded.
As she sat at the table, reviewing the events of the afternoon, after the girl had taken her departure, Mrs. Pendleton regretted that she had consented to take charge of Sisily. She flattered herself that she was sufficiently modern not to care a row of pins for the stigma on the girl's birth, but there were awkward circumstances, and not the least of them was her own rash promise to break the news to Sisily that she was illegitimate. That disclosure was not likely to help their future relations together. Mrs. Pendleton reflected that she knew very little about her niece, whom she had not seen since she was a small girl, but the recollection of her set face and tragic eyes at the dinner table impelled prompt recognition of the fact that she was going to be difficult to manage.
But there was more than that. With a feeling of dismay Mrs. Pendleton's mind awoke to a belated realization of the scandal which would fasten on Sisily and her birth if Robert succeeded in establishing his claim to the title. A peer of the realm with an illegitimate, disinherited daughter! The story would be pounced upon by a sensational press, avid for precisely such topics. In imagination Mrs. Pendleton saw the flaming headlines, the photographs, and the highly spiced reports in which every detail of her brother's private life was laid bare for a million curious eyes.
Such an exposure was too terrible to be faced. Mrs. Pendleton saw her own comfortable life affected by it; saw her position in her small social circle shaken and overwhelmed by the clamour of notoriety. She saw herself the focus of the malicious tea-table gossip of all her friends. Decidedly, it would not do.
She did her brother the justice to realize that he had overlooked the public effect of the disclosure of his painful domestic secret as completely as she had. He had forgotten that his accession to the peerage would make him, as it were, a public figure, and the glamour which the newspapers would throw over his lifelong quest would invest every act of his life with a publicity from which he could not hope to escape. If he had foreseen this, he would have made some other arrangement for his daughter's future, not for the girl's sake, but for the honour of the famous old name of which he was so fanatically proud.
The question remained, what was to be done? Robert would have to be told, of course. Mrs. Pendleton's first impulse was to retract her promise to take charge of Sisily, and wash her hands of the whole affair. Then she thought of the money, and wavered. Robert had made her a generous offer, and the money would have helped so much! She had already planned the spending of the cheque he had given her that afternoon. She had thought of a new suite of drawing-room furniture, and bedroom carpets. She had a vision of a small motor-car, later on.
As she pondered over the situation she thought she saw a way out—a way so simple and practical that she was astonished that it had not occurred to her before.
Mrs. Pendleton was a woman of decision and prompt of action when she made up her mind. Her mind was made up now. She glanced across the table at her husband. "Joseph!" she said.
Mr. Pendleton, hidden behind the sheets of a newspaper just arrived from London, had the temerity not to hear. He was in a grumpy mood, arising, in the first instance, from having been dragged away from his business and his club to Cornwall. It was nothing to him that he was in the Land of Lyonesse. His brief impression of the Duchy was that it was all rocks, and that Penzance was a dull town without a proper seafront, swarming with rascally shopkeepers who tried to sell serpentine match-boxes at the price of gold ones, and provided with hotels where dull tourists submitted to a daily diet of Cornish pasties and pollock under the delusion that they were taking in local colour in the process. Mr. Pendleton's stomach resented his own rash deglutition of these dainties, and in consequence he was suffering too much with acute indigestion to think of the compensation he would gain at next year's Academy by standing with a bragging knowing air before pictures of the Cornish coast, expatiating to his bored acquaintances (who had never been to Cornwall) on their lack of merit compared with the real thing. Like most husbands, Mr. Pendleton had been able to reach the conclusion that the real cause of his bodily and mental discomfort was his wife, so he maintained a sulky silence behind the pages of his newspaper.
With that lack of ceremony which the familiarity of marriage engenders in the female breast, his wife leant across the table and plucked the paper from his hand.
"Listen to me, Joseph," she said, "I want to talk to you."
Lacking the newspaper screen, Mr. Pendleton's rebellious tendencies instantly evaporated beneath his wife's searching eye.
"Yes, my dear," he replied meekly. "What about?"
"About Sisily. Did you notice that she did not speak a word during dinner?"
"Perhaps she was overcome with grief, my dear."
"Nonsense! Grief does not make a woman speechless. She's one of the dumb sort of girls. I always mistrust a girl who hasn't plenty to say for herself."
"Well, you know, my dear, she has had a strange sort of life. She hasn't had the educational advantages of other young women"—Mr. Pendleton was going to add "in her station of life," but a timely recollection of the afternoon's disclosures caused him to substitute: "with wealthy fathers."
"Robert has neglected his duty to her shamefully. I've been thinking it all over, and I'm half sorry now that I consented to take charge of her."
"Then why do it?" said her husband placidly.
"It's the scandal I fear," rejoined his wife, pursuing her own thought. "There's bound to be a lot of talk and newspaper publicity when Robert comes into the title. It would be much better to keep this quiet, after all these years. There is really no occasion for it, if Robert will only listen to reason. Robert wishes to avoid future trouble and complications about the succession. That could be arranged by getting Sisily to sign some agreement renouncing all claim on the title."
"I doubt if such a document would be legal, my dear," said her husband dubiously.
"That wouldn't matter in the least," replied Mrs. Pendleton, with a woman's contempt for the law. "It would be purely a family arrangement. Sisily could be assured by somebody in whom she has reliance—not her father, of course—that there was some legal reason why she could not succeed. I do not think there would be any trouble with her. She does not look the kind of girl to delight in a title and a lot of money. Robert would have to settle a handsome allowance on the poor child—indeed, it is the very least he can do! If Robert agreed to this course there would be no need to blurt out the brutal truth, and I would take Sisily under my charge."
Mr. Pendleton saw several objections to his wife's plan, but he had long learnt the futility of domestic argument—on the husband's side at least. "How much do you consider your brother ought to allow Sisily?" he asked.
"Two thousand a year. Robert can well afford it."
"Do you think your brother Austin would agree?"
"Of course he wouldn't. Austin is horribly selfish. He wouldn't give Sisily a penny if he had his way, now that he knows the truth. But I don't intend to consult Austin in the matter. I thought of asking Dr. Ravenshaw to go with me and try and influence Robert. Robert trusts him implicitly, and he seems to have a great deal of influence with him. I feel sure he would do his utmost to bring Robert to listen to reason. Do you not think my plan a good one?"
In the secret depth of his heart Mr. Pendleton did not, but with the moral cowardice of a husband he forebore from saying so. "It might be tried," he feebly muttered.
"Very well, we will try it, then," said his wife, rising from her seat as she spoke. "Go and order that motor-car we had this afternoon while I get ready."
Mr. Pendleton was accustomed to his wife's energetic way of doing things on the spur of the moment, but he had never become used to it. "Do you intend to go and see your brother to-night?" he said, with an air of surprise.
Mr. Pendleton sought for a reason, but could find none. "It's rather late, isn't it?" he suggested.
"Nonsense!" Mrs. Pendleton glanced at her wrist watch. "It's not much past eight."
"Why not leave it until the morning?" said her husband, with a lingering glance at the cheery glow of the log-fire in the lounge. "It's a beast of a night to be out. Hark to the wind!"
"If it is to be settled, it must be settled to-night," said Mrs. Pendleton decisively. "There'll be no time in the morning for anything, if we are to catch the ten o'clock train for London. Beside, Austin would see us if we went there in daylight, and I do not want him to know anything about it—he would only try and put obstacles in our way."
"What about Sisily?"
"She will be quite all right in her room. She looked tired out, and needs a good night's rest. You had better see about the car at once."
Mr. Pendleton said no more, and his wife bustled away to put on her outdoor things. When she descended from her room her husband was awaiting her in the lounge, and the head-light of the hired motor-car gleamed in the darkness outside.
They set out through the narrow uneven streets, which smelt strongly of mackerel and pitch. In a few minutes the car was clear of the town, and running at an increased pace through the gusty darkness of the moors.
With a face grimly immobile as the carved head of a heathen god, Thalassa stood at the front door watching the departure of Sisily and her aunt until the car was lost to sight in a dip of the moors. Then with a glance at the leaping water at the foot of the cliffs, grey and mysterious in the gloaming, he turned and went inside the house.
It was his evening duty to prepare the lamps which lighted up the old house on the cliffs. Sisily generally helped him in that tedious duty, but she was gone, and for the future he must do it alone.
The lamps were kept in a little lowbrowed room off the stone kitchen. There Thalassa betook himself. Robert Turold disliked the dark, and a great array of lamps awaited him: large ones for the rooms, small ones for the passages and staircase. Thalassa set to work with a will, filling them with oil, trimming the wicks, and polishing the glasses with a piece of chamois leather.
As he filled and trimmed and polished he sang to himself an old sea song:
"The devil and me, we went away to sea, In the old brig 'Lizbeth-Jane'—"
His voice was gruff and harsh, and the melody, such as it was, did nothing to relax his expression, which remained grim and secret as ever.
Each lamp he lit as he finished it, and their gathered strength gushed in a flood of yellow light on his crafty brown face and deep-set eyes. He placed several of the lamps on a tray, carefully lowered the wicks, and carried them to their allotted places, returning for others until only half a dozen small lamps remained. These he gathered on the tray and took upstairs.
Night had fallen; the wind was rising without, and seemed to rustle and whistle in the draughty passages of the old house. Thalassa placed one lamp at the head of the stairs, and others in the niches of the passage, where they flickered feebly and diffused a feeble light. Halfway down the passage he paused before a closed door. It was the room in which Sisily's mother had died. With an expressionless face he went in and left the last lamp burning dimly on the mantelpiece, like a votary candle on an altar of the dead. Issuing forth again he cast a look around him and walked to Robert Turold's study at the end of the passage. The door was closed, but he opened it and entered.
Robert Turold was busily engaged writing at a large table by the light of a swinging lamp. He looked up from his papers as Thalassa entered, and thoughtfully watched him as he trimmed the lamp and tended the fire. With these duties completed Thalassa still lingered, as though he expected his master to speak.
"What's the glass like to-night, Thalassa?" remarked Robert Turold absently.
The allusion was to a weather glass which hung in the hall downstairs. As a topic of conversation it was as useful to master and servant as the weather is to most English people. That is to say, it helped them when they were wordbound.
"Going down fast," replied Thalassa.
"Then I suppose we are in for another rough night."
"The glass is always going down in Cornwall, and we are always in for another rough night," responded the servitor curtly. "Are you going to stay much longer in the forsaken hole?"
"Not much longer," replied his master in a mild tone.
"It is, perhaps, a dreary spot to you, but not to me—no, never to me. The last link in my long search has been found here—hidden away in this little out-of-the-way Cornish place. Think of that, Thalassa! I shall be Lord Turrald."
"I don't see what good it will do you," retorted the man austerely. "You've spent a mint of money over it. I suppose that's your own affair, though. But what's to come next? That's what I want to know."
"When I leave Cornwall—"
"You mean we, don't you?" Thalassa interrupted.
"Of course I mean you as well as myself," Robert Turold replied almost humbly. "I should be sorry to part with you, Thalassa, you must be well aware of that. It is my intention to purchase a portion of the family estate at Great Missenden, which is at present in the market, and spend the remainder of my life in the place which once belonged to my ancestors. That has been the dream of my life, and I shall soon be able to carry it out."
A silence fell between them upon this statement, and Robert Turold's eyes turned towards his papers again. But Thalassa stood watching him, as though he had something on his mind still. He brought it out abruptly—
"And what about your daughter?"
"My daughter is going to London with my sister for a prolonged visit," said Robert Turold hurriedly. "She needs womanly training and other advantages which I, in my preoccupations, have been unable to bestow upon her. It is greatly to her advantage to go."
Robert Turold gave this explanation with averted face, in a tone which sounded almost apologetic. The relative positions between them seemed curiously reversed. It was as though Thalassa were the master, and the other the man.
"Oh, that's it, is it?" Thalassa turned a cautious yet penetrating eye upon his master. "Well, she's your own daughter, so I suppose you know what's the best for her." He spoke indifferently, but there was an odd note in his voice. He picked up his tray, and carelessly added: "For my part I shall be glad to get out of Cornwall. It's a savage place, only fit for savages and seagulls. There's the wind rising again."
A violent gust shook the house, and rattled the window-panes of the room. It was the eyrie in which the deceased artist had painted his pictures, with two large windows which looked over the cliff. Again the gale sprang at the house, and smote the windows with spectral blows. Downstairs, a door slammed sharply.
"Damn the wind!" exclaimed Thalassa peevishly. "There's no keeping it out. I'm going downstairs to lock up now. You'll have your supper up here, I suppose?"
"Yes. I have a lot of work to do before I go to bed."
Thalassa left the room without further speech, and Robert Turold began rummaging among his papers with a hand which trembled slightly. The table was littered with parchments, old books, and some sheets of newly written foolscap. He picked up his pen and plunged it into a brass inkstand, then paused in thought. His face was perturbed and uneasy. It may be that he was reviewing the events of the day, wondering, perhaps, whether he had paid too high a price for the attainment of his ambition. For it he had sacrificed his daughter and the woman who now slept in the churchyard near by, indifferent to it all. Nothing could restore to him the secret he had divulged that afternoon.
A shade of apprehension deepened on his downcast face. Then he frowned impatiently, and plunged into his writing again.
On leaving his master's room Thalassa went swiftly downstairs and disappeared into some remote back region of the lonely old house. He had other duties to perform before his day's work was finished. There was wood to be chopped, coal to be brought in, water to be drawn. Nearly an hour elapsed before he reappeared, candle in hand, and entered the kitchen.
A little woman with a furtive face, sharp nose, and blinking eyes was seated at one end of the kitchen table with playing-cards spread out in front of her. She looked up at the sound of the opening door, and fear crept into her eyes. She was Thalassa's wife, but the relationship was so completely ignored by Thalassa that other people were apt to forget its existence. The couple did the work of Flint House between them, but apart from that common interest Thalassa gave his wife very little of his attention, leading a solitary morose life, eating and sleeping alone, and holding no converse with her apart from what was necessary for the management of the house.
How he had ever come to bend his neck to the matrimonial yoke was one of those mysteries which must be accounted a triumph for the pursuing sex—a tribute to the fearlessness of woman in the ardour of the chase. On no other hypothesis was it possible to understand how such a feeble specimen of womanhood had been able to bring down such an untoward specimen of the masculine brute. Outwardly, Thalassa had more kinship with a pirate than a husband. There was that in his swart eagle visage and moody eyes which suggested lawless cruises, untrammelled adventure, and the fierce wooing of brown women by tropic seas rather than the dull routine of married life. As a husband he was an anomaly like a caged macaw in a spinster's drawing-room.
Mrs. Thalassa's victory had ended with bringing him down, and she soon had cause to regret her temerity in marrying him. Thalassa repaid the indignity of capture by a course of treatment which had long since subdued his wife to a state of perpetual fear of him—a fear which deepened into speechless shaking horror when he stormed out at her in one of his black rages. Some women would have taken to drink, others to religion. Mrs. Thalassa sought consolation in two packs of diminutive and dog-eared cards. Her shattered spirit found something inexpressibly soothing in the intricacies of patience: in the patchwork of colour, the array of sequences, the sudden discovery of an overlooked move, the dear triumph of a hard-won game.
It was thus she was occupied now, shuffling, cutting, and laying out her rows with quick nervous movements of her worn little hands. She glanced once more at her husband as he entered, and then bent over her cards again.
The night had descended blackly, and the wind moaned eerily round the old house. Thalassa sat in a straight-backed wooden chair listening to the wind and rain raging outside, and occasionally glancing at his wife, who remained absorbed in her patience. Half an hour passed in silence, broken only by the rattling of rain on the window, and the loud ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece. Suddenly the bell of Robert Turold's room rang loudly in its place behind the kitchen door.
It was one of the old wired bells, and it sprang backwards and forwards so violently under the impulse of the unseen pull that the other bells ranged alongside responded to the vibration by oscillating in sympathy.
Thalassa watched them moodily until the sound ceased. He then left the kitchen with deliberate tread, and stalked upstairs.
The door of his master's study was closed. He opened it without troubling to knock, but started back in astonishment at the sight which met his eyes. Robert Turold was crouching by the table like a beaten dog, whimpering and shaking with fear. He sprang to his feet as Thalassa entered, and advanced towards him.
"Thank God you've come, Thalassa," he cried.
"What's the matter with you?" said Thalassa sternly.
"He's come back, Thalassa—he's come back."
"You know whom I mean well enough. It was—" His voice sank suddenly, and he whispered a name in the man's ear.
Thalassa's brown cheek paled slightly, but he answered quickly and roughly—
"What nonsense are you talking now? How can he have come back? How often must I tell you that he is dead?"
"You mean that you thought he was dead, Thalassa. But he is alive."
"How do you know?"
"I heard him."
"Heard him! What do you mean?"
"I heard his footsteps pattering around the house, as clear and distinct as that night on that hellish island. Shall I ever forget the sound of his footsteps then, as he raced over the rocks, looking back at us with his wild eyes, and the blood streaming down his face—running and running until he stumbled and fell? The sound of his running footsteps as he clattered over the rocks have haunted me day and night ever since. I heard them again to-night."
"I tell you again that he is dead. What! Do you think that you could hear footsteps on a night like this?" The man stepped quickly across to the nearest window and flung it open. The room was filled with rushing wind, and the window curtains flapped noisily. "And where would he be running to? Do you suppose he could climb up here from outside?"
"It might have been his spirit," murmured the other.
"Spirits don't cross the ocean, and their footsteps don't clatter," responded Thalassa coldly. "The house is all locked up, and there is no other house near by. Come, what are you afraid of? You are worrying and upsetting yourself over nothing. I'll bring you up your supper, and some whisky with it. And the sooner you leave this cursed hole of a place, the better it will be."
He crossed over to the fireplace and poked the coal into a red glow, and then turned to leave the room. It was plain that his words had some effect on Robert Turold, and he made an effort to restore his dignity before the witness of his humiliation left him.
"No doubt you are right, Thalassa," he said in his usual tone. "My nerves are a little overstrung, I fancy. You said the house was locked up for the night, I think?"
"Everything bolted and barred," said Thalassa, and left the room.
He returned downstairs to the kitchen, where he wandered restlessly about, occasionally pausing to look out of the window into the darkness of the night. The rain had ceased, but the wind blew fiercely, and the sea thundered at the foot of the cliffs. The gloom outside was thinning, and as Thalassa glanced out his eye lighted on a strange shape among the rocks. To his imagination it appeared to have something of the semblance of a man's form standing motionless, watching the house.
Thalassa remained near the window staring out at the object. While he stood thus, a faint sound reached him in the stillness. It was the muffled yet insistent tap of somebody apparently anxious to attract attention without making too much noise, and coming, as it seemed, from the front door. Thalassa glanced at his wife, but she appeared to have heard nothing, and her grey head was bent over her cards. He walked noiselessly out of the kitchen, closing the door gently behind him.
His wife remained at the table, unconscious of everything but the lay of her cards; shuffling, dealing, setting them out afresh in perpendicular rows, muttering at the obstinacy of the kings and queens as though their painted faces were alive and sensitive to her reproof. The old house creaked and groaned in the wind, then became suddenly silent, like a man overtaken by sleep in the midst of stretching and yawning. Time sped on. Thalassa did not return, but she did not notice his absence. More rain fell, beating against the window importunately, as if begging admission, then ceased all at once, as at a hidden command, and again there was a profound silence.
A piece of coal jumped from the fire with a hissing noise, and fell at Mrs. Thalassa's feet. She got up to replace it, and observed that she was alone.
She thought she heard her husband's footsteps in the passage, and opened the door. But there was nobody there. The lower part of the house was gloomy and dark, but she could see the lamp glimmering on the hall stand. She was about to return to her seat when the hall lamp suddenly mooned up, cast monstrous shadows, and went black out.
This fantastic trick of the lamp frightened her. What had made it flare up like that and go out? And whose footsteps had she heard? With a chill feeling of fear she shut the door and turned again to her game. But for once the charm of the cards failed her. Where was Jasper, and why did he not return? Silence held oppressive empire; her fears plucked at her like ghostly hands. The lamp and the footstep—what did they mean? Had she really heard a footstep?
She thought she saw something white in the uncurtained space of the window. She buried her face in her hands, lacking the courage to cross the room and pull down the blind.
Mysterious noises overhead, like somebody creeping on all-fours, drew her eyes back to the door opening into the passage. With dismay she saw it was not properly shut. She wondered if she dared go and lock it. Suppose it was her husband, after all? And the noises? Were they real, or had she imagined them?
There came to her ear an unmistakable sound like the slamming of a door above her. A sudden accession in the quality of her fear sent her flying to the passage door to lock it. Before she could get there the door flew open violently, as though hit by a giant's hand, and then the wind blew coldly on her face. The lamp on the kitchen table sent up a straight tongue of flame in the draught, and also went out. As she stood there with straining eyes a cry rang out overhead, followed in a space immeasurable to the listener in the gulf of blackness, by a shattering sound which seemed to shake the house to its foundations. Then the external blackness entered her own soul, shrouding her consciousness like the sudden swift fall of a curtain.