Part 5 out of 6
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!"
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
"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
"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
"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 ...
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
"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
were barely audible. "Because I would not be believed. Because I went
straight up the path to the house, determined to see your father before it
grew later. The front door was open, and the house seemed in complete
darkness. I entered, and went upstairs. There was a light in your father's
study. I found your father--dead." He fixed care-worn eyes upon her. "That
story sounds incredible, even to you, doesn't it? But--"
"Oh!" That startled cry seemed wrung from her involuntarily. Then,
swiftly, as if her mind had detached itself to look on her own actions
that night through his eyes: "You thought, you believed that I--" She
checked herself, but her look completed the thought.
"I did not know what to think, but I did not think--that," he gloomily
rejoined. "Afterwards, the next night, I found out something which made me
think--" He paused.
"Yes, yes, tell me what you thought," she said nervously.
"I thought it was Thalassa."
She shook her head.
"Who was it then? The latest theory of the police is that I had something
to do with it. They're looking for both of us. They must have found out
that I was at Flint House that night. It's too late to tell them the truth
now, not that they were likely to have believed me at any time. Why, my
own father believes that I did this thing." He laughed discordantly. "I
tried to convince your father's lawyer of your innocence, and I might have
told him the truth if he had been sympathetic. I don't know, though," he
added anxiously. "I had to consider your position all along. If my story
was disbelieved it only made it worse for you. If it was not Thalassa, who
could it have been? Have you any idea--the faintest suspicion?"
Again she shook her head. She made an effort to look at him, but there
were tears in her eyes for the first time. His hand was resting on the
table, and she touched it gently with her fingers.
"We must find out." He spoke loudly, as if with the idea that a firm
utterance lessened the tremendous difficulty of that performance.
"What can we do?" Her tone was hopeless enough.
"Let me think." He fiddled with the planchette on the table as though he
had some notion of invoking the shade of Robert Turold to answer the
question. "Had your father any enemy? Did he fear anybody?"
She raised thoughtful eyes to his in reply.
"My father feared nobody," she said, "at least, I do not think so. Nobody
had any real influence over him except Thalassa."
"What sort of an influence?"
"It is difficult to describe," she hesitatingly answered. "Thalassa could
take liberties which nobody else would have dared. He used to go into his
room at any time. Sometimes I have awakened late at night and heard the
murmur of their voices coming from my father's study."
"Anything else?" he said, looking at her keenly.
"There was never any question of Thalassa leaving us," she went on.
"Wherever we went, and we were always going to some fresh part of England
about the title, Thalassa went also. Perhaps it was because he had known
him for so long that my father allowed Thalassa to do things which nobody
else could do. Thalassa used to sneer about the title, and say no good
would come of it. They had a quarrel once, long, long ago. I was a very
little girl at the time, and I can just remember it," she added dreamily.
She was apparently unconscious of the significance of these revelations,
but they made a deep impression upon Charles. There was something
expectant and cruel in his face as he listened--the aroused instinct of
the hunter. He addressed her--
"This bears out what I have believed all along. Thalassa knows about the
murder. He is mixed up in it in some way."
"Oh, why do you think that?" she exclaimed, clasping her hand in distress.
"Why?" he echoed. "Because your father was not the man to stand insolence
from Thalassa or anybody else unless he had to. Thalassa must have had him
under his thumb in some way. Why did I not know of this before? It's clear
enough now. Thalassa, even if he did not commit the murder--"
"He did not," she said quickly. "He left the house with me, so he could
not have done it."
"Then he knows who did. He and your father shared some secret
together--some dreadful secret which brought about your father's death.
That is one reason why Thalassa will not speak--because he is implicated
in this mystery, whatever it is."
"No, no. He is keeping silence because of me--I feel sure. I made him
promise not to tell."
Charles Turold shook his head decidedly. "He may have more than one reason
for keeping silent," he said with a swift flash of intuition. "If it is as
you say, he is shielding himself as well as you. If your father was killed
while Thalassa was out of the house that night, Thalassa knows who did
Her eyes met his in an agony of perplexity and distress. "Oh, no, I cannot
think you are right," she said. "If I could only see Thalassa--for five
"What good would that do?" he abruptly demanded.
"He would tell me the truth--if he knew."
He shook his head incredulously. "You do not know all," he murmured. He
shrank from telling her of the marks on her father's arm. "I know
Thalassa," she eagerly replied. "He would tell me if he thought it would
"If you think that I will go down and see him--and get it all out of him."
"No, no! You must not go," she cried in affright. "It would not be safe
"Would it be any more dangerous than hiding in London like a skulking
rat?" he bitterly replied. "This cannot go on. We are both in a dangerous
position, and might be arrested at any moment. What would happen then? Who
would believe my story--or yours? They sound improbable even to ourselves.
Here, at least, is a chance of discovering the truth, for I most solemnly
believe that Thalassa knows it, or guesses it. What other chance have we
of finding out the hideous mystery of that night? I must go, Sisily. I
will be careful, for your sake."
She knew by his voice that he was not to be deterred from the hazardous
enterprise, so she did not attempt to dissuade him further. But she clung
to him trembling, as though she would have shielded him from the menace of
capture. He was thinking rapidly.
"It may be that I shall fail," he said. "I do not think so, because I
shall take every precaution, but the police will be watching for me in
Cornwall as well as here. If I fail--if I do not come back ... you will
Her look answered him.
"You had better watch the papers. And be careful on your own account." He
eyed her anxiously. "Do you think you will be safe here till I get back?"
"Yes--I think so," she murmured sadly.
"Very well. I will go down by to-night's train--I've just time to catch
it." He glanced at his watch with an assumption of cheerfulness. "When you
wake up in the morning I shall be in Cornwall."
"I shall not sleep," she said, in a miserable broken voice. "I shall lie
awake, thinking of you."
He caught her swiftly in his arms, and kissed her on the lips. "If I find
out the truth, nothing shall come between us then, Sisily?"
"No, nothing," she said.
He turned with a sudden swift movement as though to go, but she still held
"Tell Thalassa ... that I ask him to tell you the truth, if he knows
She released him then, and stood looking after him as he walked from the
room and out of the house.
Flint House looked a picture of desolation in the chill grey day, wrapped
in such silence that Charles's cautious knock seemed to reverberate
through the stillness around. But the knocking, repeated more loudly,
aroused no human response. After waiting awhile the young man pulled the
bell. From within the house a cracked and jangling tinkle echoed faintly,
and then quivered into silence. He rang again, but there was no sound of
foot or voice; no noise but the cries of the gulls overhead and the hoarse
beat of the sea at the foot of the cliffs.
A cormorant, sitting on a rock near by, twisted its thin neck to stare
fearlessly at the visitor. But Charles Turold was not thinking of
cormorants. Where was Thalassa? Where was his wife? He believed they were
still in Cornwall, but they might have left the house. He had been in
London a long while. Not so long, though--only twelve days. Twelve days!
Twelve eternities of unendurable hopelessness and loneliness, such as the
damned might know. Was he to fail, now, after finding Sisily? He had a
responsibility, a solemn duty. He had reached Cornwall safely from
London--run the gauntlet of all the watching eyes of the police--and he
would not go back without seeing Thalassa. His mind was thoroughly made
up. He would find him, if he had to walk every inch of Cornwall in search
of him. And when he found him he would wrest the truth out of him--yes, by
God, he would! When he found him, but where was he to be found? The crafty
old scoundrel might be in the house at that moment, lurking there like a
wolf, perhaps grinning down at him from behind some closed window.... A
sudden rage surged over him at that thought, and he fell savagely on the
shut door, beating it with insensate fury with his fists. Damn him, he
would force his way in!
The cormorant ruffled its greenish feathers and watched him curiously. The
faint cries of the gulls overhead seemed borne downward with a note of
mocking derision. Charles Turold stepped back from the door with an uneasy
look at the cormorant, as though fearing to detect in its unreflecting
beadiness of glance some humanly cynical enjoyment at his loss of
self-control. The wave of feeling had spent itself. Not thus was victory
to be won. He paused to consider, then tried the knocker again. The
knocker smote the wood with a hollow sound, like a stroke on the iron door
of a vault, loud enough to rouse the dead. Charles Turold had a
disagreeable impression of Robert Turold starting up in his grave-clothes
at the summons, listening.... But no! The dead man was safe in his grave
by this time. He had forgotten that.
A sudden silence fell on the house: a deep and profound stillness, as
though seas and wind had hushed their wailing speech to listen for the
answer to the knock. The birds, too, were silent. The house remained
immutably quiet. Charles Turold bent down, and peered through the keyhole,
but could see nothing within but darkness. Then, as he looked, a sound
reached his ears, a sound like a thin cackle of laughter from the interior
of the house. In the gathering gloom within he had a momentary impression
of a stealing greyish shape--a shape which vanished from his vision as he
He rose to his feet, his mind groping blindly for some tangible
explanation of this spectral thing, but finding none. A ghost? He shook
off that feeling roughly. God knows, that house might well be haunted, but
not by a ghost that could laugh, though there was no merriment in that
ghastly cackle. The reality of the thing, whatever it was, could not be
worse than the sound. Had he really seen anything, after all? Was there
some trap about it, some danger to himself? He would have to risk that.
The distant sight of a human figure far away on the wide space of the
moors, clambering over the granite slabs of a stile, turned his thoughts
to a more perceptible danger. If he could see that man more than half a
mile away, his own figure must be apparent over a long distance in that
clear brown expanse. Perhaps at that very moment the policeman from the
churchtown was prowling about the moors in search of him. His actions at
that lonely house were suspicious enough to attract anybody's attention.
That was an act of imprudence which he had no right to commit. He had not
evaded the keen eyes of the London police to be trapped like a rat by a
rural constable. It was too dangerous for him to remain there. He
determined to spend the rest of the day among the cliffs, and return to
Flint House when night fell.
He walked away, briskly at first, but with a more laggard step as he
plunged into the shelter of the great rocks, for he had had nothing to eat
since the night before, and was beginning to be conscious of his weakness.
But he strode on, doggedly enough, for more than an hour, until he found
himself at a part of the coast he had not seen before--a theatre of black
rocks, with dark towering walls, and a hissing sea whitening at the base.
At the foot of these cliffs three jagged conical rocks rose bare and
glistening, the spray from the broken sea dashing far up their sides. As
Charles stood there, looking down, he saw a man appear from the edge of
the furthest one and walk rapidly across the sloping shelf of rock which
spanned the narrow bay near the surface of the sea. His heart leapt within
him as he took in the figure of the man. It was Thalassa.
As Charles climbed down from the higher cliffs to intercept him, there
came to his mind an imperfectly comprehended fragment of conversation
which he had overheard, between waking and dozing, in the train that
morning. The voices drifted to his dulled hearing from the next
compartment, where some men seemed to be discussing somebody of whom they
stood in dread, somebody who was forever striding along the cliffs with
his eyes fixed on some distant horizon, as though seeking some one. The
object of the mysterious being's quest, if it was a quest, nobody who met
him cared to ask. So much he had gathered. He had heard one of the
speakers say: "I've met un, ever so laate, stalkin' aloong like th' devil.
Tes aw token o' a bad conscience. Tes dreadful to think about. I got owt
o' his way.... I'd as soon speak to th' devil. Iss, aw'd." Charles had
thought nothing of this chatter at the time, but he wondered now if they
were talking of Thalassa. Did the local fisherfolk believe that he had
something to do with the murder, and shunned him like Ishmael in
He looked like Ishmael at that moment, crossing that wild place, earnestly
scanning every nook of those seamed and riven walls, sometimes glancing
stealthily behind him. His preoccupation in this search--if it was a
search--was so great that he never once glanced ahead, and he did not see
Charles until the young man leaped down the last few paces of his slippery
descent and stood plainly forth before him. Thalassa's brown face did not
move a muscle as he looked at him.
"Thalassa," said Charles sternly, "I have been looking for you."
Thalassa went on, still scanning the secret places of the towering cliffs
as he walked forward with Charles beside him. When the rugged passage was
crossed, and the narrow wild bay left behind, he spoke.
"To have the truth out of you, you infernal scoundrel!" cried the young
man fiercely, his self-control suddenly vanishing at that indifferent
tone. "You know all about the murder of your master; you're going to tell
me, or I'll throw you off these cliffs into the sea."
He gripped the other's arm as he spoke, but Thalassa tore off his fingers,
and leapt backward against a rock, a knife in his hand, snarling like a
"Keep off!" he cried. "Keep off, or by Christ, I'll--" He hooked the air
with his knife.
Charles eyed him across the space, affected almost to nausea by his evil
glance. What a fool he had been to lose his temper! Not in that way was
the truth to be reached. The man before him was not to be terrorized or
intimidated. Sisily's way would have been the best. He wondered whether it
was too late to attempt it.
"I was hasty, Thalassa," he said. "Come, do not let us quarrel after I
have risked everything to get down here to see you. I have a message for
The face of the man crouching by the rock changed instantly. He made a
step forward, as if to speak, then cast a gleaming eye of unbelief at his
"It's a lie!" he said. "You haven't seen her."
"I'm speaking the truth," Charles earnestly replied. "Do you think I'd
have come back to Cornwall otherwise, knowing the police are searching for
"Ay, you know that, do you?" muttered the other. "They've been watching
Flint House for you. You were a fool to come back here."
"I'd risk more than that to learn the truth, Thalassa. It's for Sisily's
sake. I've seen her. She's in London, and I've come from her. She gave me
this message to bring to you. She said: 'Tell Thalassa that I ask him to
tell the truth--if he knows it.' The police are looking for her as well as
"I've heered so." With these words, uttered quickly, Thalassa fell into
the silence of a man on his guard and pondering. Charles approached
"Thalassa," he pleaded, "if you are keeping anything back you must tell me
for Sisily's sake."
"How do I know you've seen her?" retorted Thalassa, darting a dark crafty
look at him.
Charles was overwhelmed by a sense of catastrophe. Here was a possibility
which had been overlooked. How was he to instil belief that he spoke the
truth? A moment passed. Thalassa cast another black look at him, and
turned as if to walk away. "I'll keep my word," he muttered to himself.
The young man's quick ear caught the whispered sentence, and saw the way.
"I'll prove it to you," he said. "You promised Sisily that you'd tell
nobody she was at Flint House to see her father on the night he was
killed. How could I know that unless I'd seen her?"
"What else?" said Thalassa, facing him with a strange and doubtful glance.
"You let her in," Charles rapidly continued, "and you waited downstairs
for her. Afterwards you took her back across the moors to catch the
wagonette. It was on the way, near the cross-roads, that Sisily made you
promise not to tell anybody that she'd been there that night."
"Suppose it's true--what then?" Thalassa's voice was edged with the
craftiest caution. "She's sent you to me to ask for the truth, say you.
'Twould have been safer not. What else is there to say, when she's told
you everything?" He cast a look of savage jealousy at the young man.
"Much." Charles spoke rapidly, but his glance was despairing. "What
happened while you were away from the house? What sent your wife mad? What
did you find when you returned? You know these things, Thalassa."
"Happen I did, what good'd come of telling them?"
"To save Sisily."
"They'd not help to save her."
"Do you think she shot her father?"
Thalassa gave him another dark look, but remained silent.
"You know she didn't, you hound!" cried Charles, anger flaring up in him
again. "It was you--it must have been you. Listen to me! I know almost
enough to hang you. I was in the house while you were away, and found your
master lying dead in his study, and the key of the door in the passage
outside. Who could have dropped it there except you?"
"'Tweren't me. 'Twas done afore I got back to the house," answered
"What time was it when you left the house with Sisily?"
"Agone half-past eight: perhaps ten minutes after. She came running
downstairs, her eyes staring and blazing. 'Thalassa, dear Thalassa, for
pity's sake let me out,' she said half-sobbing. 'Oh, what did I come for?
He's wicked--wicked.' Twasn't for me to say anything between father and
daughter, so I just opened the door without a word, and went out with
"What time did Sisily catch the wagonette?"
"That's what I don't know. She made me go back when we got to the
cross-roads. She knew as well as I did that the old fool who drives it
wasn't particular as to time, and she worried about my old woman getting
scairt if she found herself alone, and me out. 'Go back to her, Thalassa,'
she said, 'I shall be all right now.' That was just after she'd made me
promise to tell nobody that she'd been to see her father that night. And,
by God, I kept my word. Nobody got anything out of me, though they tried
hard enough. Well, when she sent me back I went, leaving her standing, for
I had my own reason for going. When I looked back after a bit I saw her
standing there by the light of the dirty little lamp above the
"Did you see the wagonette on the road?"
"Not a sign of it. Just her--alone."
A faint hope died in Charles's breast. Even the drunken irregularity of a
Cornish cabman told against Sisily. But that point was not so immediately
important as Thalassa's story that the murder had been committed during
his absence from Flint House. Although his own experience supported that
supposition, Charles was reluctant to accept a theory which plunged the
events of that night into deeper mystery than ever.
"Well, go on," he said. "What did you find when you got back?"
"The house was dark and the door open. The wind was coming in from the sea
sharp enough to take your head off your shoulders, and I thought perhaps
I'd jammed the door without closing it, and it had blowed open with the
wind. But when I got inside I heered something like moaning. I thought
that might be the wind too, for it's for ever screeching up and down the
passages like a devil, specially o' nights. I--" He stopped suddenly,
with a cautious sidelong look at his listener.
"Yes, yes!" cried Charles. "And what then?"
Thalassa went on, but a little moodily.
"I went along to the kitchen and found the old woman lying on the floor,
in a kind of fit or faint, making the queer noise I'd just heered. When I
picked her up she opened her eyes, laughing and crying and making mouths
as she pointed to the ceiling. I could get nothing out of her for a while.
Then she mutters something about a crash upstairs, and goes off into
another fit. I carried her into her bedroom and went upstairs as fast as
my legs would take me. There was a light under his door, but he didn't
answer when I knocked. I tried to open it, but it was locked inside. In a
bit there was a knock downstairs. You know what happened after that." He
lapsed into silence again, with another look at the young man.
"That was when my aunt and her husband and Dr. Ravenshaw came to the
door?" said Charles, filling in the pause. "But how was it that you told
them that you feared something had happened to your master? Was that pure
guesswork on your part? You hadn't been in the room, you say."
"I had to tell them something, hadn't I?" retorted the other sullenly. "If
I hadn't told them that, it would a' all come out about me going out with
Miss Sisily, and not into the coal cellar, as I said."
"It is astonishing that your story should have been so near the truth when
you knew nothing of what had taken place."
"I did know something. The door was open, the house dark, and she in a fit
on the floor, saying there'd been a crash upstairs. Then his door was
locked, and I couldn't get an answer. Wasn't that enough?"
"Hardly enough to warrant your saying that you feared your master had been
murdered--unless you expected him to be murdered."
"I didn't say that," replied Thalassa with unusual quickness. "All I said
was that I was afeered something had happened to him. There was reason for
thinking that. I had to make up my story quick--that part about just going
for Dr. Ravenshaw. That was because I'd still got my hat and topcoat on,
just as I'd come in from the moors, and I wasn't going to break my promise
to Miss Sisily."
"Did you see the blood under the door when you went up and tried to get
"I've told you all there is to tell," was the dogged response.
"What frightened your wife so much? Do you think she saw the murderer?"
"That's what I would like to know," responded Thalassa, with a swift
He turned his face away and looked across the sea, the brown outline of
his hooked profile more than ever like an effigy carved by savage hands.
Charles scanned him despairingly. The feeling was strong within him that
he was still keeping something back.
"Thalassa," he said, "you should have told this story before. You have
done wrong in keeping it back."
"'Twould a' been breaking of my word to Miss Sisily."
"It was of more importance to clear her. You could have done that if you
had come forward and told the police, as you've just told me, that she
left the house with you before nine o'clock on that night."
"'Twouldn't a' helped if I had. I found out next day that the wagonette
didn't get to the cross-roads that night till nearly ten o'clock. 'Twas
after half-past nine when it left the inn."
"What made you find out that?"
"Do you think I didn't put my wits to work when the damned detective was
trying to put me into it as well as her? I thought it all out then--about
telling the truth. But I saw 'twould a' been no good for her, but only
made matters worse. Who'd a' believed me? There be times when a man can
say too much, so I kept my mouth shut."
There was so much sense in this that Charles had nothing to say in reply.
In silence they tramped along till they reached the dip of the sea in
which the Moon Rock lay. Here they paused, as if with the mutual feeling
that the time had come for the interview to end. Behind them towered the
cliffs, with Flint House hanging crazily on the summit far above where
they stood. The eye of Charles ranged along the shore to the spot where he
had said good-bye to Sisily not so very long ago, then returned to rest
doubtingly on Thalassa. The old man stood with his hand resting on a giant
rock, his dark eyes fixed on the rim of the waste of grey water where a
weak declining sun hung irresolutely, as though fearing the inevitable
"I'd a' given my right arm to have saved her from this," Charles heard him
Charles found himself looking down at Thalassa's brown muscular arm,
corded with veins, stretched out on the rock by which he stood. It was as
though it had been bared for his inspection, which was not, indeed, the
case. If that arm could save Sisily, it was at her service. But what was
the good of that? What was the good of his own efforts to help her?
Charles had a suffocating feeling of the futility of human effort when
opposed by the malignity of Fate. He asked himself with aching heart what
was to be the outcome of it all? He had failed. What then? It was not
until that moment that he realized how strongly he had been buoyed up by
the false optimism of hope. His consciousness, as though directed by the
power of a devil, was forced to look for the first time upon the hideous
inevitability of the appointed end.
"No, no! Not that--not that," he shudderingly whispered to himself.
Neither moved. The minutes passed leaden-footed. It was silent and still
in that wild spot, as if theirs were the only two human hearts beating in
a dead world. It seemed as though neither could bring it upon himself to
terminate the interview. Charles was the first to break the silence. He
spoke like a man coming out of a dream.
"Did that clock upstairs keep good time?" he asked in a low voice.
Thalassa turned on him as if not understanding the purport of the
"It was going shipshape and Bristol fashion in the afternoon. What's that
got to do with it? What does it signify if it was five minutes fast or
The logic of the answer was apparent to Charles, who knew he was only
attempting to pluck something by chance out of the dark maze. But another
and shrewder idea started up in his mind.
"What was your reason for hurrying back across the moors that night?"
"Miss Sisily told me to go."
"But you had another reason--a reason of your own," said Charles, turning
quickly to regard him. "You said so yourself."
"If I had I've forgotten what it was," said Thalassa with a black look.
"You cannot have forgotten!" cried Charles. "What was it?" Hope sprang up
in his heart again like a warm flame as he detected something confused and
irresolute in the other's attitude. "Thalassa, you are keeping something
back. You know, or you guess, who the murderer is!"
"I'm keeping nothing back."
"You are. I can see it in your face. What is it that you will not tell?
What do you fear?"
"The gallows--for one thing."
"You'd sooner see Sisily lose her life on them?"
This bitter taunt, wrung from the depth of the young man's anguished
heart, had an instantaneous and unexpected effect on his companion.
"No, no!" he hoarsely cried, "I couldn't a' bear that. But it's nothing to
tell, nothing to help. It was earlier that night, before she came. I was
looking out of the kitchen window, when I thought I saw a rock move. Then
I looked again, and it seemed like a man--though I couldn't see his face."
"Is that all?" Bitter disappointment rang in Charles's voice. "That might
have been me. I was out on the rocks that night, close to Flint House."
"'Tweren't you." Thalassa's reply was so low as to be almost inaudible. "I
don't know who it was, but I'll take my Bible oath it weren't you."
"Who was it then?" Charles asked breathlessly.
"A dead man, or his spirit. I know that now, though I laughed when
_he_ said it. I know better now."
He stopped suddenly, like one who has said too much, and looked moodily
out to sea.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Never mind what I mean. It's nothing to do with you. A man's a fool when
he gets talking. The tongue trips you up."
"Thalassa," said Charles solemnly, "if you know anything which might throw
the remotest light on this mystery it is your duty to reveal it."
"It's easy to talk. But I swore--I swore I would never tell."
"This is the moment to forget your oath."
"It's fine to talk--for you. But he'd come back to haunt me, if he knew."
He jerked his thumb in the direction of the distant churchyard where
Robert Turold lay.
Charles looked at his grim and secret face in despair. "I hope you realize
what you are doing by keeping silence," he said.
"I'm keeping a still tongue in my head, for one thing."
"For one thing--yes. For another, you're injuring Sisily--you're doing
more than injure her. You're letting her remain under suspicion of her
father's death, in hiding in London, hunted by the police. Yet she
believed in you. It was she who sent me to you, it was she who said: 'Tell
Thalassa from me to tell the truth, if he knows it.' Is she mistaken in
you, Thalassa? Do you think more of your own skin than her safety?"
It was a strange story which Charles Turold heard by that grey Cornish
sea--a story touched with the glitter of adventurous fortune in the sombre
setting of a trachytic island, where wine-dark breakers beat monotonously
on a black beach of volcanic sand strewn with driftwood, kelp, dead
shells, and the squirming forms of blindworms tossed up from the bowels of
a dead sea. It was there in the spell of solitude thirty years before that
Robert Turold's soul had yielded to temptation at the beck of his
That, however, was the end--or what Robert Turold imagined to be the
end--of the story. The listener was first invited to contemplate a scene
in human progress when men gathered from the four corners of the earth and
underwent incredible hardships of hunger, thirst, disease, lived like
beasts and died like vermin for the sake of precious stones in the earth.
Thalassa brought up before the young man's eyes a vivid picture of an
African diamond rush of that period--a corrugated iron settlement of one
straggling street, knee-deep in sand, swarming with vermin and scorpions,
almost waterless, crowded with a mongrel, ever-increasing lot of needy
adventurers brought from all parts of the world by reports of diamonds
which could be picked out with a penknife from the dunes and sandy shingle
which formed the background of the villainous "town." In the great waves
and ridges of sand which stretched everywhere as far as the eye could
reach, runaway scoundrels of every shade of colour wormed on their bellies
with the terrible pertinacity of ants, sweating and groping in that
choking dust for the glittering crystals so rarely found.
Thalassa had been infected by the diamond fever like so many more. Like
other young men he wanted plenty of money for women and grog--what else,
he asked, could a man get for money that was worth having? In those days
he was a sailor before the mast, lacking the capital for such delights. So
he deserted his timber tramp when she touched at Port Elizabeth, and set
out for the diamond fields with another runaway--the ship's cook, who had
an ambition to have his meals cooked for him for the rest of his life,
instead of cooking meals for other people.
The fields were far to the north. Thalassa reached them after a terrible
journey through the stony veldt and sandy desert, broken by barren hills.
His companion died of the hardships, and was buried in the desert which
stretched to the wandering course of the Orange River. Thalassa secured
his license and went "prospecting."
"Dost a' know anything about diamonds--digging for them?" he broke off to
Charles Turold shook his head.
Thalassa lapsed into silence for some moments, his eyes fixed on the sea
hissing among the black wet rocks at his feet, then said--
"A man's a fool most of his days, but sometimes he can be such a fool that
the memory 'll come up to mock him when he lays dying. Here was I,
deserting my ship and throwing away a year's wages and a'most my life to
get to these damned fields, thinking to pick up diamonds cut and
glittering like I'd seen them in London shops, when as soon as I'd clapped
eyes on the first diamond I saw dug up I knew that I'd left behind me at
the other end of the world as many rough diamonds as there was in the
whole of that dustbin of a place--diamonds that didn't have to be dug for,
either, only I didn't know them when I saw them."
His narrowed eye gleamed craftily, a mere pin's point of expression in the
direction of Charles, as though expecting a question. But Charles kept
silence, so he went on with his story. He let it be understood that his
luck on the fields was of the worst possible description--never a solitary
stone came his way. But he had no heart for digging. He was always
thinking of the diamonds in that remote spot which he had ignorantly let
slip from his grasp, like the dog in the fable dropping the substance for
the shadow. He would have gone back to look for them, but he'd spent most
of his little capital in that wild-goose chase, and the miserable remnant
oozed away like water in a place where the barest necessaries of life cost
fabulous prices. Soon he became stranded, practically penniless.
It was this precarious moment of his fortunes which his star (his evil
star, he insisted on that) selected to bring him into juxtaposition with
the man whose life was to be inexorably mingled with his own from that
time henceforward. The actual meeting place was a tin-roofed grog shanty
kept by a giant Kaffir woman and a sore-eyed degenerate white man, whose
subjection to his black paramour had earned for him among the blacks on
the field the terrible sobriquet of "White Harry." Here, one night,
Thalassa sat drinking bad beer and planning impossible schemes for
returning to his diamonds at the other end of the world. The place was
empty of other customers. The Kaffir woman slumbered behind the flimsy
planking of the bar, and "White Harry" sat on the counter scraping tunes
out of a little fiddle. Thalassa remembered the tune he was
playing--"Annie Laurie." Upon this scene there entered two young men,
Englishmen. Thalassa discerned that at once by the cut of their jib.
Besides, they ordered Bass beer. Who else but Englishmen would order Bass
beer at five shillings a bottle in a God-forsaken place like that?
"_He_ was one of them." Thalassa moved his hand vaguely in the
direction of St. Fair churchyard. "Smart and lively he was then--not like
what he was afore he died. I took a fancy to him as soon as I set my eyes
on him. He was a man in those days, and I knowed a man when I saw 'un. I
didn't care so much for the looks of the other 'un--Remington was his
name, as I heered afterwards. Well enough for some tastes, but too much of
the God Almighty Englishman about him to suit me. A handsome chap he was,
this Remington, I'm bound to say--young and slim, wi' a pink face like a
girl's, not a hair on it, and lookin' as though he might a' turned out of
a bandbox. Him--Turold--had a moustache, and his face was a dark 'un, but
I liked him for all his black looks--though not so black in those days,
either. More eager like."
Charles Turold found himself trying to picture Robert Turold in the part
of a smart lively young fellow, and failing utterly. But Time took the
smartness out of a man in less than thirty years. It had also taken the
liveliness out of Robert Turold for good and all.
Thalassa went on with his story. The young men were served with their beer
at five shillings a bottle, and sat down in a corner to drink it. They
talked as they sipped, and Thalassa listened. His original idea that they
were young men of wealth (because of the Bass) was soon dispersed by the
trend of their conversation. They had gone out from England to make their
fortunes on the fields, but had come a cropper like himself, and were
discussing what they'd do next. The fair-haired one, Remington, was all
for getting back to England while they had any money left, but Turold was
dead against it. There were plenty of diamonds to be found, and he was
going to have some of them. He'd been talking to a man who was just back
from the interior with a story of a river beach full of diamonds, and he
was fitting up an expedition to go back and get them. Turold wanted to
join in, but Remington said he'd heard too many stories of diamonds to be
picked up for the asking. Had he forgotten about the cursed Jew who got a
hundred pounds out of them? Turold said this was different--the man had
brought back a little bottleful of diamonds. Remington replied with a
sneer about "salting." They argued. "Suppose we dropped the last of our
money?" Remington asked. "No worse than crawling back to England like
whipped curs, poorer than we set out," said the other. Remington said he
didn't want to go back to England like that, but he'd sooner face it than
run the risk of being stranded in that hell of a place. Turold answered he
was not going back till he'd made a fortune. He said (Thalassa remembered
his exact words): "I don't care how I do it, Remington, but I will do
it--mark my words." "Show me a more sensible plan than this, and I'm with
you," Remington had replied.
It was at this stage that Thalassa was seized with an inclination to
thrust himself into the dialogue. Striving to explain his reasons at that
distance of time, he said it was Robert Turold's last remark which really
decided him--did the trick, as he phrased it. Actually it must have been a
prompt recognition of the kinship between two lawless souls.
He left his seat and went across to where the two young Englishmen were
earnestly talking, unaware that they had been overheard. He approached
them as one shipwrecked sailor might approach two other castaways marooned
on the same rock. They all wanted money, and they all wanted to get away
from that God-forsaken hole. Diamonds they were after? Well, he could take
them to a place at the other end of the world where there were enough
diamonds in the rough to make them all rich for life.
After the first surprise at his interruption they heard him in silence,
and then plied him with questions. Where were these diamonds? In a
volcanic island in the South Pacific. Where about? They couldn't expect
him to tell them that. It was Robert Turold (Thalassa seemed to have
addressed himself principally to him) who asked him how he knew that the
diamonds were still there. Thalassa's reply was that they were buried in a
big box, and the island was out of the run of ships. What sort of a big
box? Turold had asked. Thalassa replied (perhaps reluctantly) that the box
was "a kind of a coffin," and that there was a dead man inside of it as
well as the diamonds, but he, at all events, was not likely to run off
Remington and Turold were startled by this answer, and conferred hastily
apart. They returned to ask more questions. They wanted to know how the
body and the diamonds had got there in the first instance, but that was a
story which Thalassa refused to reveal. That had nothing to do with it, he
said. The ship which had buried the man there had gone down afterwards
with all hands, so nobody knew about the diamonds except him.
After that Remington became the chief questioner, Robert Turold merely
looking on, his dark eyes frequently meeting Thalassa's. It seemed as
though he must have realized that these last replies concealed a story
better left unprobed. But Remington wanted to know why Thalassa had come
searching for diamonds in that part of the world when he knew of plenty in
another, and Thalassa had replied, in all simplicity, that it was because
the Almighty had endowed him with more muscles than brains, and he hadn't
recognized the worth of the stones at the time. In fact, he didn't know
that they were diamonds. His experience on the fields had improved his
knowledge in that respect, and he now knew that he had left behind him on
the lonely island enough diamonds in the rough to make them all rich--two
bottlesful, and some in a leather bag, where the dead man also kept one of
those digging licenses which the damned German officials sold you--what
did they call it? Prospector's license--a _schurfschein_? said
Remington. Yes, that was it. He knew it again as soon as he got one on the
Turold and Remington again talked together in whispers, and then Turold
asked Thalassa how he proposed to get the diamonds. Thalassa had his plan
ready. They must get down to the Cape and get a boat to Sydney from
Capetown. That was the jumping-off place. From Sydney they were to take a
boat to--another place. The island was a bare two days' sail from the
"other place," and Thalassa proposed to hire a cutter on the mainland and
sail over to it. He was no navigator, but he could find his way back to
that island again at any time.
Turold seemed inclined to agree, but Remington put in another of his sharp
questions. Why did he want to bring two strangers into the business? What
was to prevent him getting the diamonds on his own account, without
sharing with anybody? Thalassa replied that he had no money to finance the
expedition, and even if he got the diamonds they'd be no use to him. How
could a rough seaman like himself, who could hardly write his own name,
turn the stones into the large sum of money they represented? That was an
enterprise which called for civilized qualities of education and address
which he did not possess. From his standpoint it was an even deal between
them. They were to supply the money and intelligence in return for his
knowledge, and they would share and share alike.
It was Robert Turold who ultimately settled the decision--winning over the
reluctant Remington with words which Thalassa had never forgotten. He also
recognized the risk, but he thought it was well worth taking. It seemed
that the two had a little more than L200 left between them--just about
enough to carry the thing through. What was the use of returning to
England with that paltry sum, he had asked. He spoke of a girl--some girl
who was waiting in England for Remington while he made his fortune abroad.
Was he going to go back to her penniless? "Even if this doesn't turn out
right," he went on, "we'll have reached another part of the world, with a
fresh chance of making money, instead of being poor in England, that
breeding-ground for tame rabbits, where poverty is the unforgiveable sin."
"I liked him for those words," said Thalassa, "for they came from a man
whose thoughts were after the style of my own. 'Twas they decided the
other chap, and next morning we set out for Capetown. From there we got
passages in a cargo boat for Sydney."
Charles found it easier to visualize this picture than the former. The
departure of the three upon such a wild romantic venture had in its
elements all the audacity, greed, and splendour of youth, and he also was
Thalassa went on with his story.
During the voyage to Sydney, Robert Turold used to talk to him on deck at
nights after Remington had gone to his bunk. It was in these solitary deck
tramps under glittering stars that Thalassa first heard from the other's
lips of the Turrald title: the title for which the fortune he was seeking
was merely a stepping stone--the means to obtain it. "Night after night he
talked of nothing else," said Thalassa, "and I knew he would do what he
wanted to do." It was easy to gather from his story that his original
admiration for Robert Turold soon grew into a deeper and stronger feeling.
There was something in the dead man's masterful ambitious character which
exercised a reluctantly conceded but undoubted fascination upon his
companion's fierce spirit.
Such were their relations when they reached Sydney and set out on a
further voyage to the other place which Thalassa was so reluctant to name.
On arriving at the "other place" they made their way to its east coast,
which was the starting point of their journey to the island. From a brown
man living on the coast Thalassa hired a smart little ketch which the
three of them could easily handle, and in this they embarked for the
island from a beach which curved like a white tusk around a blue bay.
They did not reach the island for six days--through baffling winds, and
not because they did not steer a right course. As Thalassa had said, there
was no difficulty in finding it, for they had only been one day at sea
when the smouldering smoke of the distant volcanic cone came into vision,
making an unholy mark against the clear sky which they never lost again.
Gradually they beat nearer until they made it--a circular ragged high
ridge jutting abruptly from a deep sullen sea, with a red glow showing
fitfully in the smoke of the summit.
There was an outer reef, but Thalassa knew the passage, and steered the
ketch through a tortuous channel above sunken needle-pointed rocks to a
little sheltered harbour inshore. Here they made the ketch fast, and
landed on a beach of volcanic violet, where they sometimes sank knee deep
into sulphuric water, and felt squirming sea things squelch beneath their
tread. Above this margin of violet-black sand, deposits of volcanic rock
and lava rose almost perpendicularly, enclosing the central cone in a kind
The stones they had travelled so far to obtain were there waiting for
them. Thalassa hurried over that part of the story, narrating it in barest
outline with suspicious glances directed at his listener's intent face.
Apparently he led his companions to the spot as soon as they landed--up a
path through a gap in the crater wall, across a furrowed slope all
a-quake, where jets of steam issued from gurgling fissures in snaky
spirals. On the other side of this dreary waste Thalassa led the way
across a ledge to firmer ground and a grave. Charles gathered that the
occupant of the grave had been coffined in a seaman's chest in his
clothes: "There he was, with his bottles of diamonds in his coat pockets,
and more in his leather bag in his breast pocket, just as I left him
twelve months afore to go to the other end of the world looking for what
I'd buried." A grim smile curved Thalassa's face as he uttered these
words; the idea seemed to contain elements of humour for him.
"They were diamonds, then?" said Charles curiously.
"Ay; they were diamonds right enough. Him--Turold--said they were diamonds
as soon as he uncorked one of the bottles and poured a few into the palm
of his hand. There was some rare big ones in one of the bottles--enough to
have brought all those fools tumbling out of Africa if they'd know of
them. From some papers they found on the chap Turold said he'd must a-been
prospecting in nigh every part of the world."
"How did he come to be buried there with his diamonds, in that lonely
spot?" asked Charles wonderingly.
"He was a passenger, and died as we was passing the island. 'Twas the
skipper's fancy to give him a land burial. But that doesn't matter a
dump--it's outside the story." He turned his eyes away from Charles.
Dusk had fallen before they finished their search, and Thalassa would not
undertake the risk of threading the boat out from the tortuous reef
passage in the darkness. They decided to camp on the island for the night,
preferring the sulphur-impregnated air ("A lighted match would blaze and
fizzle in it like a torch," Thalassa declared) to the cramped discomfort
of their little craft. They brought some food ashore, and made a flimsy
sort of camp above high water, at the foot of the encircling walls of the
crater. There they had their supper, and there, as they lounged smoking,
Remington in an evil moment for himself suggested that they should sort
the diamonds into three heaps--share and share alike. Robert Turold
agreed, and they emptied the stones out of the bottles and leather bag
into a single heap. Remington took one bottle and Robert Turold another;
to Thalassa fell the empty bag. As the stones were sorted one was to be
placed in each receptacle until the tally ran out.
It must have been a strange spectacle--so strange that it made a lasting
impression on the least imaginative mind of the three, for he tried in his
rude way to reproduce it on that Cornish beach after the lapse of thirty
long years. He threw bits of rock on the sand to indicate the positions in
which they had sat. From his description Charles pictured the scene
adequately enough: the violet-black beach, exhaling sulphuric vapours, the
yellow-grey volcanic rocks, the gurgling ebullitions of a geyser throwing
off volumes of smoke high above them, and the faces of the three men
(ruddy in the fire-glow, white in the moonlight) intent on the division of
the heap of dull stones scattered on a flat rock between them. Thalassa
remembered all these things; he remembered also how startled they were,
the three of them, at the unexpected sound of a kind of throaty chuckle
near by, and turned in affright to see a large bird regarding them from
the shadow of the rocks--a sea bird with rounded wings, light-coloured
plumage, and curiously staring eyes above a yellow beak. When it saw it
was observed it vanished swiftly seaward in noiseless flight.
The division, commenced good-humouredly enough, soon developed the
elements of a gamble between Robert Turold and Remington. They forgot
Thalassa's existence as they argued and disputed over the allotment of
certain stones. The foot or so of flat rock became the circumference of
their thoughts, ambitions, and passions--their world for the time being.
In that sordid drama of greed Thalassa seemed to have comported himself
with greater dignity than his two superiors by birth and education. He
even took it upon himself to reason with them on their folly. Perhaps he
knew from his own seamy experience of life what such things developed
into. At all events, he urged his companions to defer the division until
they returned to civilization and could get the spoils appraised by eyes
expert in the knowledge of precious stones. But they would not listen, so,
not liking the look of things, he withdrew a little distance off and
watched them, leaning against a rock. That was his tacit admission (so
Charles interpreted this action) that he was on Robert Turold's side, and
felt that his own interests were identical with those of the master mind.
The two, left to themselves, wrangled more fiercely than ever. There were
unpleasant taunts and mutual revilings. The listener by the rock learnt
definitely what he had previously suspected--that there was bitter blood
and bad feeling between the two men, buried for a time, but now revived
with a savageness which revealed the hollowness of their supposed
reconciliation. It was about a girl, some girl in England with whom they
had both been in love. Thalassa gathered that Remington had left England
as the favoured suitor. He had (in Thalassa's words) "cut Turold out."
Charles Turold could not forbear a faint exclamation of astonishment. His
brain reeled in trying to imagine the austere figure of Robert Turold
squabbling over a girl and some diamonds on a lonely island in the South
Pacific. He was too amazed at the moment to see the implications of this
part of the story.
"They went on snarling and showing their teeth, but not biting," continued
Thalassa, "sorting out the little stones all right, but quarrelling over
the bigger. There was two--the biggest in the bunch by far--which they
kept putting aside because they couldn't agree about the sharing of them.
At last it came about that there was only these two big 'uns left, lying
like two beans on the bit o' rock, side by side. Before I could guess what
was likely to happen Turold grabbed them up quick, and put them in his
bottle. 'These two are mine, Thalassa's and mine,' he said. 'You've had
your share, Remington.' Remington sprang from the rock quick as a snake.
'One's mine,' he said. But Turold was up as quick. 'It's not for you,' he
says, with his dark smile. 'We'll put it against the girl you filched from
me, and call it an even deal. What does a happy lover want with diamonds?'
'Damn you!' cries the other, and hit him in the face. They both went down,
scuffling and panting in the sand. I stood where I was, for I weren't
going to come between them till I saw how it was going to be. Presently I
could see that Remington was stronger, and that Turold was getting the
worst of it. After a bit Turold called out, 'Thalassa!'
"I ran down at that fast enough, and got out my knife as I went. They'd
slipped down the sloping beach half-way to the sea, writhing like a couple
of the blind-worms that I kept stepping on, going over and over so quick
that I couldn't do anything at first. But one of them was sobbing in his
breath as though he was pretty well finished, and I guessed it was Turold.
Then I saw Remington's face on top, and before they could swing round
again I got a good stroke in his neck where it gleamed white in the
moonlight. The blood jumped out warm on my hand, and he rolled over so
quick that I thought I had killed him. But as I stooped over him he was up
like a flash, staggering up the steep beach, his feet plopping and sucking
in the water underneath. Turold was on his feet by that time, breathing
hard, getting back his breath. 'After him--quick!' he says to me, his face
black with rage--'he's got the diamonds.'
"I ran after him up the beach, but he heard me coming and had the start of
me. He had firm ground under him by then, and was tearing along the rocks
towards the path I'd taken them that afternoon, turning round now and
again to look back, the blood glistening in the moonlight on his white
face. There we was--him going higher and higher, me after him, and Turold
standing below on the beach, staring up at the two of us.
"Run my best, I couldn't get near him. I suppose he thought he was done
for if I caught him, and by that time my blood was pretty well up. I had
one pull over him--I knew the island, and he didn't. The path he was
taking led to the top of the island, where the crater was, with a kind of
wall of rocks round it. But before you came to that there was a great hole
which fell down God Almighty knows how deep, and was supposed to have been
another volcano at some time or other. This hole was divided into two by a
narrow ridge running right across it, and the path Remington was on took
him straight to the edge. So he'd either got to go across this ridge when
he come to it or turn back and be caught.
"He was a long way ahead when he come to it, but he never stopped. He just
gave one glance down at me, and went on to the ridge. I watched him
balancing along it like a man on a tight rope, mounting higher and higher,
for the ridge went up steep on the far side. Thinks I to myself, 'You're a
plucky one,' then all of a sudden I heard a shout from below, and looked
down. There stood Turold, waving me out of the way. He'd been to the boat
for a gun we'd brought with us, and was taking aim at Remington. The next
thing I saw was Remington turning round on the ledge to come back to my
side, having found out, I suppose, that the ridge would take him into the
crater. Just as he turned I heard the shot. It must have winged Remington
pretty bad, because he went tumbling off the ridge head first, like a man
taking a dive into the water. I turned and climbed down to where I'd left
Turold. His face was all aglow with rage. 'The infernal scoundrel!' he
said, then--'Did you get the diamonds?' 'How was I to get them when I
never caught him?' I said. 'Then we'll get them off his body in the
morning,' he said in a low tone. 'You'll never do that,' says I. He asks
me why not, turning on me a face as savage as a dog's. 'Because whichever
side he's dropped he's safe from us,' I said. 'There's a hole that no
man's ever seen the bottom of on one side of the ridge, and on the other a
stinking lake of green boiling sulphur. When you shot him you sent him
into one or the other, so you can say good-bye to him and the diamonds.'
'Oh!' he cries, when he heard that--just like that; then after a bit he
points up the path, and asks me to go back and have a look for him. I went
back as far as the ridge. The moon was clear as day, shining on that
infernal green lake on the one side, and into the deep hole on the other.
The lake was bubbling and stewing in the moonlight like a witchpot, and
the other side of the ridge was just black emptiness, and there was no
sign of Remington--I knowed there couldn't be. Back I went again, and as I
was climbing down the path to where Turold was standing I saw something
glinting in the black sand at his feet, and when I got there I picked up
the bottle of diamonds where Remington must have dropped them when
struggling with Turold. I gave them to Turold. 'And now,' says I, 'let's
get out of here. The moon's bright enough to let me find my way through
the reefs, and this island ain't a healthy place to stay too long on. I
know it, and you don't.' He was glad enough to follow me to the boat, and
we got through on a good flowing tide."
Thalassa stopped abruptly, as though to leave on his listener's mind an
impression of that furtive departure on a dark whispering sea beneath a
"You got back to the mainland?" queried Charles, as he remained silent.
"Ay--and to England. Afore we got there Turold had persuaded himself that
Remington slipped off the ridge accidental, and that he missed him when he
"Perhaps his conscience pricked him. Go on."
"There's nowt much more to tell. Turold got me my share of the money, and
then we parted. He offered to invest it for me, but I wasn't going to
trust no banks--not I. It took me two years to waste it on gambling and
women. Then I took to sea again. That lasted another year. Then I found
myself in 'Frisco, where I shipped in a four-masted barque and come home
round the Horn. I was pretty sick of the sea after two bad goes of
rheumatic fever, so I made up my mind to hunt up Turold. I found him after
a while. He didn't seem best pleased to see me at first, but he said I
could stay till he had time to think out what he could do for me. That was
the beginning of it. We never parted again, him and me, until he was
carried out of yon house feet first. We got used to each other's ways, and
I was worth all he paid me because I saved him worry and expense. He was
all for saving, in those days. Married he was too, to a little timid thing
of a girl who was in fear and trembling of him. 'Twas a black day for her
when she married that headstrong stubborn devil. 'Mr.' Thalassa she always
called me, poor woman. I married a maid-servant they had. That was
Turold's idea--he thought by that way he could get his household looked
after very cheaply by the pair of us. I wasn't keen on marrying, but it
didn't make much odds one way or the other, for no living woman, wife or
no wife, would have kept me in England if I'd wanted to get out. As it
happened, I never did. I stayed on, going from place to place where they
went--where Turold took us."
"Whom did my uncle marry?" asked Charles.
"You might a' guessed that. 'Twas the girl t'other had cut him out of. I
thought the masterful devil'd get her when Remington was out of the way,
but I asked him once straight out, and he said yes, it was the same girl.
She was a pretty timid little thing in those days, but I don't know why
they was both so mad after her. However, there it was."
"And do you think that after all these years, Remington is really alive?"
said Charles, looking at him earnestly. "Do you think it was he who
murdered my uncle?"
"Happen maybe, happen not. The night he was killed I found him in a rare
funk in his room. He rang his bell like a fury, and when I went up he
swore he heard the footsteps of Remington just afore, running round the
rocks outside of Flint House just as he heard him pattering along the
rocks on the island that night. I didn't believe 'un then, but I'm not so
sure since. If he's come back to get Turold it's for sure he's still
somewhere about, waiting his chance to get me as well. I'm keeping my eye
open for 'un--walked the coast for miles, I have, looking for him. He
won't take me unawares, same as Turold." His eyes searched the cliffs
"You may not recognize him if you meet him. It is thirty years since you
saw him. A man changes a lot in thirty years."
"That's true, 'tis a thought which never crossed my mind." Thalassa's look
"As you've told me this story you'd better leave it in my hands, and not
go looking for anybody with that knife of yours."
"What be you going to do?"
"I must go to Scotland Yard and tell them your story. It's the only
"And get me into trouble?"
"There's not much fear of that. In any case, you must stand that, for
Thalassa nodded his acquiescence. "Better be careful yersel' getting back
to London. The police here is watching for you. They've been a' Flint
House more than once, looking for both of you."
"It's a risk I must take, nevertheless," said the young man, rising from
his seat as he spoke. "It's for Sisily's sake. Good-bye, Thalassa, and
thank you for what you've told me."
Thalassa did not reply or offer to accompany him. From his seat on the
rocks he followed Charles's ascent up the narrow path with contemplative
Barrant returned to London in the mental disposition of a man who sees an
elaborate theory thrown into the melting-pot by an unexpected turn of
events. The humbling thought was that he had allowed a second fish to
glide through his hands without even suspecting that it was on his line.
He had never remotely connected Charles Turold with the murder until Mr.
Brimsdown had imparted Mrs. Brierly's disclosure to him. He had acted
promptly enough on that piece of information, but once again he was too
Austin Turold might have felt reassured if he had known how little his
share in the events of that night occupied Barrant's mind during their
last interview. The complexion Austin's conduct bore to the detective's
reflection was that of a father who had intentionally misled the power of
authority in order to shield his son. The law took a serious view of that
offense, but it was a matter which could be dealt with at leisure in
Austin's case. By his brother's death Austin Turold had become a man of
property and standing. It was the drawback of his wealth that he could not
disappear like his son. He was to be found when wanted. The main thing
just then was to catch the son, or the girl--or both. Barrant went back to
London for that purpose.
As the days slipped away without that end being achieved he became worried
and perplexed. His own position was an unenviable one, and his thoughts
were far from pleasant. He felt that he had failed badly, and that his
standing with his superiors in Scotland Yard was under a cloud in
consequence. But he could not see where he had actually been at fault. It
was such a damned amazing case. In most crimes the trouble was to find
sufficient clues, but in this case there were too many. And the inferences
pointed different ways. That was the trouble. He was not even sure that in
this latest discovery, so annoyingly belated, he had reached the ultimate
solution of the facts. It was not that the theory of these two young
people committing murder for love was too cynical for belief. He had
encountered more incredible things than that in his professional career.
Life was a cynical business, and youth could be brutal in pursuit of its
aims, especially when the aim was passion, as it usually was. In his
experience youth and age were the dangerous periods--youth, because it
knew nothing of life, and age because it knew too much. There were fewer
surprises in middle-age. That was the period of responsibility--when
humanity clung to the ordered way with the painful rectitude of a
procession of laden ants toiling up a hill. Youth was not like that--nor
No, it was not that. His difficulty was to fit all the circumstances into
any compact theory of the case. Try as he would, there were always some
loose ends left over, some elements of uncertainty which left him
perplexed. He fashioned a new view of the murder, with Charles Turold as
the principal figure in it--the actual murderer. He assumed that Charles
and Sisily had gone to Flint House that night to prevent the truth about
Sisily's birth becoming known. The assertion of her illegitimacy rested
upon her father's bare statement, but his lawyer was convinced he would
not have made the statement without having the proofs in his possession.
These proofs had not been found. Very well. What inference was to be drawn
from that? Sisily knew that they were kept in the clock-case, and pointed
out the hiding place to her lover. In a struggle for their possession
Robert Turold was shot down, or he might have been shot first and
staggered to the clock afterwards to see if they had been stolen. Either
supposition accounted for the fallen clock, and fitted in with nearly all
the known facts of the murder.
Nearly all, but not all! In face of Mrs. Brierly's disclosure it seemed a
condition precedent to the elucidation of the mystery to substitute
Charles Turold for Thalassa as the person whose undisciplined love for
Sisily had led him to shoot her father to shield her name. Nor was it
incredible to suppose that he had remained in Cornwall to cover her flight
in the hope of diverting suspicion from her. But the loose end in the
theory was Thalassa's share in that night's events, and his dogged silence
since under strong suspicion.
Thalassa knew more than he had yet revealed, but what did he know? What
was his share in the business? It was difficult to say. Barrant was unable
to accept the assumption that three people were concerned in the murder.
That idea, if not impossible, was at least contrary to reason. But if it
was excluded, how was the silence of Thalassa to be explained? Was he
afraid? It was as difficult to associate that quality with him as with an
eagle or beast of prey.
And the theory failed to explain the reason for Robert Turold's frantic
letter to his lawyer on the night of the murder. That was another loose
What a case! It was an abnormal and sinister mystery in any light, with no
absolute or demonstrative certainty of proof by any of its circumstances,
however regarded. The effect of its perplexing clues distorted the
imagination, outraged the sense of possibility and experience. To reach
conclusiveness in it seemed as impossible as an attempt to scale an
unending staircase in a nightmare. The facts were there, but they were
inexplicable, or at least they stared at him with the aspect of many
As he weighed these doubts he found his thoughts reverting with increasing
frequency to the hood clock in Robert Turold's study and the question of
its connection with the crime. He pondered over the point with the nervous
anxiety of a puzzled brain, and it seemed to him now that he had not
devoted as much investigation to this peculiar clue as it deserved. He
recalled Mr. Brimsdown's conversation on the matter. He remembered that he
had been struck at the time by the penetration of his remarks about the
clock, and while not accepting his fantastic theory, had determined to
give more careful thought to the point. But Mrs. Brierly's disclosure put
the idea out of his head.
It recurred to him with renewed force when he found himself in Exeter
nearly a fortnight later on another case. It was a good opportunity to go
on to Cornwall, and he took it. His business completed, he caught the
early train, and in due time arrived at Penzance. With an obscure instinct
for solitude he hastened through the town and struck out across the moors.
The afternoon was waning when he reached Flint House and pulled the
old-fashioned bell-handle of the weatherbeaten door. There was no reply,
and a second ring passed disregarded. That was disconcerting and
unexpected. He wondered whether Thalassa and his wife had left the place.
Then he noticed that the door was merely closed and not shut. He lifted
the heavy iron knocker, and knocked loudly. The repeated knocking sent the
door flying open, and Barrant found himself looking into an empty hall.
Half-way down a pair of curtains stirred slightly and parted suddenly,
revealing a narrower passage which led to the door of the kitchen. The
curtains streamed horizontally, twisting and coiling like snakes. Barrant
stepped quickly inside and closed the door. The curtains fell together
There was something so startling in this action of the wind that Barrant
stood motionless, looking round him. The cold current of air he had
admitted died away in the draughty passages with queer gasping noises,
like a wind strangled. Then there was the most absolute silence. The
curtains hung perpendicular, as thickly motionless as blankets. Barrant
noticed that the hallstand and a chair beside it were thick with dust.
Evidently the house was empty.
Turning first to make quite sure that the front door was securely shut, he
took his way upstairs to Robert Turold's study.
A point of light, falling through the shattered panel of the closed door,
pierced the vague gloom of the passage and hovered on the door of the
bedroom opposite--the room into which the dead man had been carried.
Barrant entered the study and looked around him. It was intolerably dirty
and neglected; everything was covered with a thick grey dust. Barrant
walked over to the clock and regarded it attentively.
What a rascally fat face that moon had! It must have seen some queer
sights in old houses during its two hundred years of life. Strange that
those old clockmakers could make clocks to last so long, but couldn't keep
their own life-springs running half the time! The moral verse was curious
enough. Why should a man who spent half his lifetime putting together a
clock presume to tell his fellow creatures to make the most of the passing
His reflections took a more practical turn. The clock was the sole witness
to the time of the murder. There were two other clocks in Flint House, but
nobody had thought of looking at them when the crime was discovered.
Barrant regarded that as a regrettable oversight. It was always important
to know the exact time when a murder was committed. Thalassa said that the
hood clock was going and kept excellent time, but the value of that
secondary testimony was impaired by the fact that Thalassa might not be
telling the truth. On the other hand, there was certain presumptive
evidence which suggested that he was. It was a proved fact that Mr. and
Mrs. Pendleton and Dr. Ravenshaw left the doctor's house in a motor-car
for Flint House not later than half-past nine on the night of the murder.
Assuming that they covered the journey across the moors in five or six
minutes and occupied another five minutes in getting upstairs and breaking
in the door, the testimony of the hood clock seemed correct, because Dr.
Ravenshaw said death had just taken place, and he and the doctor who made
the post-mortem examination were both agreed that Robert Turold could not
have lived many minutes after he was shot. Therefore the presumptive
evidence seemed to determine the time of death accurately enough.
But that was only a minor phase of the mystery. The real problem was the
hidden connection between the clock and the murder. What had brought the
clock down, and why had Robert Turold fallen almost on top of it, his
outstretched hands resting on the dial? The complete elucidation of the
mystery lay behind the obscurity in which these two points were shrouded.
To find the answer to them was the surest and quickest way of reconciling
all the contradictory facts of the case. But Barrant racked his brains for
the reason in vain.
He examined the room. There was a leather-topped writing-table with
drawers, several cabinets filled with manuscripts and papers, some walnut
chairs with carved legs, and a tall deep bookcase filled with
dreary-looking books. His eyes wandered over the titles of the volumes.
They also belonged to a bygone period--a melancholy accumulation of works
as dead as their writers. Two whole shelves were occupied with the numbers
of a forgotten periodical which claimed to give "ample details of the
unhappy difference between Queen Caroline of Great Britain and her consort
George the Fourth." Barrant wondered idly why human nature was always so
interested in the washing of dirty linen. Above these was ranged a row of
published sermons. Barrant's eye roamed higher and fell on a fat sturdy
volume wedged in between some slimmer books. The title of this book was
"Clocks of All Periods." Clocks!
He reached for the volume and placed it on the table. A cursory glance
through the pages conveyed the suggestion that it contained more
information about clocks than was worth acquiring or writing down. There
was a chapter on water clocks, to begin with: "Known to the Egyptians and
the Holy Land." Barrant turned the leaves. "The Ancient Chinese used a
smouldering wick as timekeeper." Barrant shook his head impatiently. "King
Alfred's supposed device of measuring Time by Candles--a Myth." Would to
heaven his invention of juries was a myth, too. Scotland Yard would get on
much better without them. "A Lamp-clock was another Simple and Ingenious
Design." How intolerably long-winded the writer was. What had he to say
about hood clocks? "Very few of the Early Clocks had Dials. The Device was
generally a Mechanical Figure which struck the Hour on a Bell." Evidently
the forerunner of the devilish alarum clock. "Early clockmakers--Old
English monks as Clockmakers." The pages flowed rapidly through Barrant's
fingers. "Introduction of Minute Hand Marks--Period of Clocks Showing
Tides--Longfaced Clocks." Ah, here it was at last--"Hood Clocks."
He began to read the chapter with interest, but as he was about to turn
the first page the silence of the room was broken by a faint cackling
laugh--an elfin sound which died away instantly. He looked up, startled.
His surprise was not lessened at the sight of Mrs. Thalassa watching him
from the open doorway. She entered on tiptoe, with a strange air of
caution, examining him with restless eyes.
"I heard you," she mumbled. "I saw you go upstairs. Mr. Thalassa was out,
and I was afraid to go to the door. I've been playing patience, and it
won't come out."
She showed her apron full of small cards. She placed them on the table,
and arranged them in rows.
A new idea came into Barrant's mind as he looked at her. If the poor
creature had recovered sufficient wits to take to her cards again she
might be coaxed to recall what she had seen on the night of the murder. He
drew near her. "Can I help you?" he said.
She nodded sideways at him like a child--a child with withered face and
Together they bent over the cards. A gull flashed past the window with a
scream, as though it had seen them and was repelled at the strange sight.
"Only kings can go into vacant spaces," murmured Barrant's companion,
intent on the game.
The result of the game was inconclusive. A king remained surrounded by
small cards, like a real monarch overwhelmed by the rabble on May Day.
Mrs. Thalassa's eyes strayed mournfully over the rows, then she gathered
up the cards and shuffled them again.
"Do you know any other games of patience?" Barrant asked.
She shook her head.
"Then this is the game you were playing on that night?"
"What night?" she whispered.
"The night Mr. Turold was killed."
"I don't want to think of that--it frightens me."
She remembered, then! Her face went grey, but her eyes were alert,
"Listen to me"--he spoke very gently--"I want to help you get rid of your
fear and terror, but to do so I must talk to you about that night. Do you
The kindness in his voice seemed to reach her feeble consciousness, and
she looked at him earnestly.
"Will you try and recollect?"
She seemed to search his eyes for courage, and gave a trembling nod.
"What time was it when you heard the crash upstairs? Think well."
She seemed to make an effort to remember. "I don't know," she said at
"Think again. You were playing patience--the game you have just shown me?"
Her eyes turned to the cards on the table. "Yes," she said.
"What time did you commence--can you think?"
She shook her head. "I seem to remember it was half-past eight by the
kitchen clock when I started my last game. I was alone in the kitchen
then. The game was just coming out when I heard a crash--"
She broke off suddenly with a painful sigh and a frightened glance at the
hood clock on the wall.
"One game!" Barrant glanced at his watch with, an air of mistrust. "You
mean two, don't you?"
Her eyes returned to his. She shook her head with a rapid tremulous
motion. "No!" she exclaimed excitedly. "One, only one!"
Barrant cast another glance at his watch, which he Still held in his hand.
"You are quite sure you did not play two?" he persisted, with a puzzled
"No, no--one!" She sprang to her feet excitedly.
"Very well--one," acquiesced Barrant soothingly. "One. Go on."
But his effort to calm her came too late. She cast a wild and fearful
glance at the wall behind her, as if there was something there which
"How it rings--how it rings!" Her indistinct utterance grew louder. "Yes,
Jasper, I hear. Yes, sir, I'm coming. Where's the supper tray?"
"Don't be afraid, Mrs. Thalassa," said Barrant, approaching her, but she
backed hurriedly away towards the door.
"Coming with the supper tray--coming with the supper tray.... What's that?
Her disjointed mutterings ended in a shrill scream which went ringing
through the stillness and seemed to linger in the room after she had
disappeared. Barrant heard her muttering and laughing as she descended the
The sounds died away into a silence so absolute as to suggest the
impression of a universe suddenly stricken dumb. Barrant crossed the room
to the window, where he stood looking out, deep in thought.
What was the meaning of it all--of this latest scene in particular? The
game of patience so tempestuously concluded had occupied half-an-hour. He
had noted the time. Yet Mrs. Thalassa insisted she had played only one
game after half-past eight on the night of the murder. If he dared accept
such a computation of time an unimagined possibility in the case stood
revealed. But--a demented woman. "A parable in the mouth of a fool."
Perhaps it was because she was a fool that he had stumbled on this
revelation. She lacked the wit to lie about it.
His eyes, straying incuriously over the outstretched panorama of sea and
cliffs beneath the window, fell upon a man's outline scaling the cliff
path near the Moon Rock. Disturbed in his meditations, Barrant watched the
climber. He reached the top and appeared in full view on the bare summit
of the cliffs. Barrant stared down upon him, amazed beyond measure. The
advancing figure was Charles Turold.
Barrant hastened from the room downstairs to the front door. From the open
doorway he saw Charles Turold advancing across the rocks in the direction
of the house, and he ran swiftly down the gravel path to intercept him.
Charles looked up and came on as if there was nothing to turn back for.
His clear glance dwelt on the figure by the gate without fear--with
seeming gratification. Barrant was amazed. He had been prepared for an
attempt at flight, but not this welcoming look. Never before had he known
a man show joy at the prospect of arrest. The experience was so disturbing
that he went across the intervening space to meet Charles, and laid a hand
upon his arm.
"I suppose you know you are wanted by the police?" he said.
"I am aware of it," was the quiet reply. "I was going to give myself up."
"Did you come back to Cornwall for that purpose?" asked the detective,
shooting another puzzled glance at him.
"I came back to try and discover the truth."
"About my uncle's death."
"And have you discovered it?"
Barrant did not understand the young man's attitude, or the tone of
heartfelt relief in which he uttered these words, but he felt that the
conversation in its present form had gone far enough.
"Do you propose to tell me the truth?" he asked, with a slight cynical
emphasis on the last word.
Barrant's surprise kept him silent for a moment, but when he spoke he was
"In that case it is my duty to warn you--"
"There is no need to warn me," Charles quickly interrupted. "I know. Any
statement I make will be taken down and used against me. That's the
formula, isn't it, or something to that effect? Let us go into the
house--my story will take some time in the telling."
He made this request as a right rather than a favour, and Barrant found
himself turning in at the gate with him. In silence they walked to the
house, and it was Charles Turold who led the way to the sitting-room.
"It was here it began," he murmured, glancing round the deserted
apartment, "and it seems fitting that the truth should be brought to light
in the same place."
"Provided that it is the truth," commented his companion.
Charles did not reply. They had been standing face to face, but he now
drew a chair to the table and sat down. Barrant walked to the door and
locked it before seating himself beside him.
"You can begin as soon as you like," he said.
"I think I had better tell you about my own actions, first of all, on that
night," said Charles, after a brief silence. "It will clear the way for
what follows. I was up here that night--the night of the murder."
"I know that much," was Barrant's cold comment.
"You suspected it--you did not know it," Charles quickly rejoined.
He remained profoundly silent for a moment, as if meditating his words,
and then plunged into his tale.
The account of his own visit to Flint House on the night of the murder he
related with details withheld from Sisily. The visit was the outcome of a
quarrel between father and son over Robert Turold's announcement about his
wife's previous marriage. Charles was shocked by his uncle's decision to
make the story public, and had wandered about the cliffs until dark trying
to decide what to do. Ultimately he returned home and asked his father to
use his influence with his brother to keep the secret in the family. His
father called him a fool for suggesting such a thing, declined to offend
his brother or blast his own prospects by such damned quixotic nonsense.
On this Charles had announced his intention of seeing his uncle and
telling him he would leave England immediately and forever unless the
scandal was kept quiet. That made his father angry, and they quarrelled
violently. Charles cut the quarrel short by flinging out of the house in
the rain, to carry out his intention of interviewing his uncle. He walked
across the moors to Flint House. The front door was open, the downstairs
portion of the house in darkness, and his uncle lying upstairs in his
He hurried over all this as of small importance in the deeper significance
of Thalassa's story. That was to him the great thing--the wonderful
discovery which was to clear Sisily and put everything right. He believed
that the plan which had brought him to Cornwall was working splendidly.
The chance encounter with the detective was really providential--a
speeding up, a saving of valuable time.
The possibility of disbelief did not dawn upon him. He overlooked that his
listener was also his custodian and judge--the suspicious arbiter of a
belated story told by one whose own actions were in the highest degree
suspicious. His overburdened mind forgot these things in the excitement of
hope. He talked with the candour and freedom of one young man confiding in
another. When he had finished he looked at his companion expectantly, but
Barrant's eyes were coldly official.
"A strange story!" he said.
"A true one," Charles eagerly rejoined. "Thalassa has been walking along
the coast ever since in the expectation of finding this man. He will kill
him if he meets him."
It was Barrant's lot to listen to many strange stories which were always
true, according to the narrators, but generally they caused him to feel
ashamed of the poverty of human invention. He was not immediately
concerned to discover whether Thalassa's story was true or false, or
whether it had been concocted between him and Charles with the object of
deceiving the authorities. The consideration of that infamous brownfaced
scoundrel's confession could be postponed--if it had ever been made. The
present business was with Charles Turold. There was something infernally
mysterious in his unexpected reappearance in that spot. He had gone to
London when he disappeared--he admitted that. What had brought him back?
To see Thalassa, as he said, in order to try and get at the truth?
Nonsense! He--Barrant--was not simple enough to believe that. What then?
Barrant was not prepared to supply a ready answer to that question. But
his trained ear had detected many gaps in the young man's own narrative
which, filled in, might give it. Turold knew more than he had said--he was
keeping things back. Again--what things? Behind him stood the shadowy
figure of the girl and her unexplained flight. Barrant's instinct told him
that Charles was shielding her. He turned to the task of endeavouring to
reach the truth.
"Let's go back a bit," he said casually. "You've left one or two points in
your own story unexplained. What about the key?"
"The key?" Charles started slightly. You mean--"
"I mean the key of the room upstairs. You said you found the key in the
passage outside. You must have locked the door after you and taken it away
"I did," replied the young man, in some hesitation.
"For what reason?"
Charles realized that he was on very thin ice. In his intense
preoccupation with Thalassa's story he had forgotten that his own
impulsive actions on that night must be construed as proof of his own
guilt or bear too literal interpretation of having been done to shield
Sisily. He saw that he was in a position of extraordinary difficulty.
"I was hardly conscious of what I was doing, at the time," he said.
"You took the key away with you?"
Charles nodded with the feeling that the ice was cracking beneath him.
"And how did it get back into the room afterwards?"
Charles paused to consider his reply, but the detective supplied it.