The House of the Whispering Pines, by Anna Katharine Green

xvi

62 Cuthbert Road

Tush! I will stir about,

And all things will be well, I warrant thee.

Romeo and Juliet.

He was walking south and on the best lighted and most beautiful street in town, but his eyes were forever seeking a break in the long line of fence which marked off the grounds of a seemingly interminable stretch of neighbouring mansions, and when a corner was at last reached, he dashed around it and took a straight course for Huested Street, down which he passed with quickened steps and an air of growing assurance.

He was soon at the bottom of the hill where the street, taking a turn, plunged him at once into a thickly populated district. As this was still the residence quarter, he passed on until he gained the heart of the town and the region of the saloons. Here he slackened pace and consulted a memorandum he had made while talking to Hexford. “A big job,” was his comment, sorry to find the hour quite so late. “But I’m not bound to finish it to-night. A start is all I can hope for, so here goes.”

It was not his intention to revisit the places so thoroughly overhauled by the police. He carried another list, that of certain small groceries and quiet unobtrusive hotels where a man could find a private room in which to drink alone; it being Sweetwater’s conviction that in such a place, and in such a place only, would be found the tokens of those solitary hours spent by Arthur Cumberland between the time of his sister’s murder and his reappearance the next day. “Had they been spent in his old haunts or in any of the well-known drinking saloons of the city, some one would have peached on him before this,” he went on, in silent argument with himself. “He’s too well known, too much of a swell for all his lowering aspect and hang-dog look, to stroll along unnoticed through any of the principal streets, so soon after the news of his sister’s murder had set the whole town agog. Yet he was not seen till he struck Garden Street, a good quarter of a mile from his usual resorts.”

Here, Sweetwater glanced up at the corner gas-lamp beneath which he stood, and seeing that he was in Garden Street, tried to locate himself in the exact spot where this young man had first been seen on the notable morning in question. Then he looked carefully about him. Nothing in the street or its immediate neighbourhood suggested the low and secret den he was in search of.

“I shall have to make use of the list,” he decided, and asked the first passer-by the way to Hubbell’s Alley.

It was a mile off. “That settles it,” muttered Sweetwater. “Besides, I doubt if he would go into an alley. The man has sunk low, but hardly so low as that. What’s the next address I have? Cuthbert Road. Where’s that?”

Espying a policeman eyeing him with more or less curiosity from the other side of the street, he crossed over and requested to be directed to Cuthbert Road.

“Cuthbert Road! That’s where the markets are. They’re closed at this time of night,” was the somewhat suspicious reply.

Evidently the location was not a savoury one.

“Are there nothing but markets there?” inquired Sweetwater, innocently. It was his present desire not to be recognised as a detective even by the men on beat. “I’m looking up a friend. He keeps a grocery or some kind of small hotel. I have his number, but I don’t know how to get to Cuthbert Road.”

“Then turn straight about and go down the first street, and you’ll reach it before the trolley-car you see up there can strike this corner. But first, sew up your pockets. There’s a bad block between you and the markets.”

Sweetwater slapped his trousers and laughed.

“I wasn’t born yesterday,” he cried; and following the officer’s directions, made straight for the Road. “Worse than the alley,” he muttered; “but too near to be slighted. I wonder if I shouldn’t have borrowed somebody’s old coat.”

It had been wiser, certainly. In Garden Street all the houses had been closed and dark, but here they were open and often brightly lighted and noisy from cellar to roof. Men, women, and frequently children, jostled him on the pavement, and he felt his pockets touched more than once. But he wasn’t Caleb Sweetwater of the New York department of police for nothing. He laughed, bantered, fought his way through and finally reached the quieter region and, at this hour, the almost deserted one, of the markets. Sixty-two was not far off, and, pausing a moment to consider his course, he mechanically took in the surroundings. He was surprised to find himself almost in the open country. The houses extending on his left were fronted by the booths and stalls of the market but beyond these were the fields. Interested in this discovery, and anxious to locate himself exactly, he took his stand under a favouring gas-lamp, and took out his map.

What he saw, sent him forward in haste. Shops had now taken the place of tenements, and as these were mostly closed, there were very few persons on the block, and those were quiet and unobtrusive. He reached a corner before coming to 62 and was still more interested to perceive that the street which branched off thus immediately from the markets was a wide and busy one, offering both a safe and easy approach to dealer and customer. “I’m on the track,” he whispered almost aloud in his secret self-congratulation. “Sixty-two will prove a decent quiet resort which I may not be above patronising myself.”

But he hesitated when he reached it. Some houses invite and some repel. This house repelled. Yet there was nothing shabby or mysterious about it. There was the decent entrance, lighted, but not too brilliantly; a row of dark windows over it; and, above it all, a sloping roof in which another sparkle of light drew his attention to an upper row of windows, this time, of the old dormer shape. An alley ran down one side of the house to the stables, now locked but later to be thrown open for the use of the farmers who begin to gather here as early as four o’clock. Nothing wrong in its appearance, everything ship-shape and yet —“I shall find some strange characters here,” was the Sweetwater comment with which our detective opened the door and walked into the house.

It was an unusual hour for guests, and the woman whom he saw bending over a sort of desk in one corner of the room he strode into, looked up hastily, almost suspiciously.

“Well, and what is your business?” she asked, with her eye on his clothes, which while not fashionable, were evidently of the sort not often seen in that place.

“I want a room,” he tipsily confided to her, “in which I can drink and drink till I cannot see. I’m in trouble I am; but I don’t want to do any mischief; I only want to forget. I’ve money, and —” as he saw her mouth open, “and I’ve the stuff. Whiskey, just whiskey. Give me a room. I’ll be quiet.”

“I’ll give you nothing.” She was hot, angry, and full of distrust. “This house is not for such as you. It’s a farmer’s lodging; honest men, who’d stare and go mad to see a feller like you about. Go along, I tell you, or I’ll call Jim. He’ll know what to do with you.”

“Then, he’ll know mor’n I do myself,” mumbled the detective, with a crushed and discouraged air. “Money and not a place to spend it in! Why can’t I go in there?” he peevishly inquired with a tremulous gesture towards a half-open door through which a glimpse could be got of a neat little snuggery. “Nobody’ll see me. Give me a glass and leave me till I rap for you in the morning. That’s worth a fiver. Don’t you think so, missus? — And we’ll begin by passing over the fiver.”

“No.”

She was mighty peremptory and what was more, she was in a great hurry to get rid of him. This haste and the anxious ear she turned towards the hall enlightened him as to the situation. There was some one within hearing or liable to come within hearing, who possibly was not so stiff under temptation. Could it be her husband? If so, it might be worth his own while to await the good man’s coming, if only he could manage to hold his own for the next few minutes.

Changing his tactics, he turned his back on the snuggery and surveyed the offended woman, with just a touch of maudlin sentiment.

“I say,” he cried, just loud enough to attract the attention of any one within ear-shot. “You’re a mighty fine woman and the boss of this here establishment; that’s evident. I’d like to see the man who could say no to you. He’s never sat in that ’ere cashier’s seat where you be; of that I’m dead sure. He wouldn’t care for fivers if you didn’t, nor for tens either.”

She was really a fine woman for her station, and a buxom, powerful one, too. But her glance wavered under these words and she showed a desire, with difficulty suppressed, to use the strength of her white but brawny arms, in shoving him out of the house. To aid her self-control, he, on his part, began to edge towards the door, always eyeing her and always speaking loudly in admirably acted tipsy unconsciousness of the fact.

“I’m a man who likes my own way as well as anybody,” were the words with which he sought to save the situation, and further his own purposes. “But I never quarrel with a woman. Her whims are sacred to me. I may not believe in them; they may cost me money and comfort; but I yield, I do, when they are as strong in their wishes as you be. I’m going, missus — I’m going — Oh!”

The exclamation burst from him. He could not help it. The door behind him had opened, and a man stepped in, causing him so much astonishment that he forgot himself. The woman was big, bigger than most women who rule the roost and do the work in haunts where work calls for muscle and a good head behind it. She was also rosy and of a make to draw the eye, if not the heart. But the man who now entered was small almost to the point of being a manikin, and more than that, he was weazen of face and ill-balanced on his two tiny, ridiculous legs. Yet she trembled at his presence, and turned a shade paler as she uttered the feeble protest:

“Jim!”

“Is she making a fool of herself?” asked the little man in a voice as shrill as it was weak. “Do your business with me. Women are no good.” And he stalked into the room as only little men can.

Sweetwater took out his ten; pointed to the snuggery, and tapped his breast-pocket. “Whiskey here,” he confided. “Bring me a glass. I don’t mind your farmers. They won’t bother me. What I want is a locked door and a still mouth in your head.”

The last he whispered in the husband’s ear as the wife crossed reluctantly back to her books.

The man turned the bill he had received, over and over in his hand; then scrutinised Sweetwater, with his first show of hesitation.

“You don’t want to kill yourself?” he asked.

Sweetwater laughed with a show of good humour that appeared to relieve the woman, if it did not the man.

“Oh, that’s it,” he cried. “That’s what the missus was afraid of, was it? Well, I vow! And ten thousand dollars to my credit in the bank! No, I don’t want to kill myself. I just want to booze to my heart’s content, with nobody by to count the glasses. You’ve known such fellers before, and that cosey, little room over there has known them, too. Just add me to the list; it won’t harm you.”

The man’s hand closed on the bill. Sweetwater noted the action out of the corner of his eye, but his direct glance was on the woman. Her back was to him, but she had started as he mentioned the snuggery and made as if to turn; but thought better of it, and bent lower over her books.

“I’ve struck the spot,” he murmured, exultantly to himself. “This is the place I want and here I’ll spend the night; but not to booze my wits away, oh, no.”

Nevertheless it was a night virtually wasted. He learned nothing more than what was revealed by that one slight movement on the part of the woman.

Though the man came in and sat with him for an hour, and they drank together out of the flask Sweetwater had brought with him, he was as impervious to all Sweetwater’s wiles and as blind to every bait he threw out, as any man the young detective had ever had to do with. When the door closed on him, and Sweetwater was left to sit out the tedious night alone, it was with small satisfaction to himself, and some regret for his sacrificed bill. The driving in of the farmers and the awakening of life in the market, and all the stir it occasioned inside the house and out, prevented sleep even if he had been inclined that way. He had to swallow his pill, and he did it with the best grace possible. Sooner than was expected of him, sooner than was wise, perhaps, he was on his feet and peering out of the one small window this most dismal day room contained. He had not mistaken the outlook. It gave on to the alley, and all that was visible from behind the curtains where he stood, was the high brick wall of the neighbouring house. This wall had not even a window in it; which in itself was a disappointment to one of his resources. He turned back into the room, disgusted; then crept to the window again, and, softly raising the sash, cast one of his lightning glances up and down the alley. Then he softly let the sash fall again and retreated to the centre of the room, where he stood for a moment with a growing smile of intelligence and hope on his face. He had detected close against the side of the wall, a box or hand-cart full of empty bottles. It gave him an idea. With an impetuosity he would have criticised in another man, he flung himself out of the room in which he had been for so many hours confined, and coming face to face with the landlady standing in unexpected watch before the door, found it a strain on his nerves to instantly assume the sullen, vaguely abused air with which he had decided to leave the house. Nevertheless, he made the attempt, and if he did not succeed to his own satisfaction, he evidently did to hers, for she made no effort to stop him as he stumbled out, and in her final look, which he managed with some address to intercept, he perceived nothing but relief. What had been in her mind? Fear for him or fear for themselves? He could not decide until he had rummaged that cart of bottles. But how was he to do this without attracting attention to himself in a way he still felt, to be undesirable. In his indecision, he paused on the sidewalk and let his glances wander vaguely over the busy scene before him. Before be knew it, his eye had left the market and travelled across the snow-covered fields to a building standing by itself in the far distance. Its appearance was not unfamiliar. Seizing hold of the first man who passed him, he pointed it out, crying:

“What building is that?”

“That? That’s The Whispering Pines, the country club-house, where —”

He didn’t wait for the end of the sentence, but plunged into the thickest group of people he could find, with a determination greater than ever to turn those bottles over before he ate.

His manner of going about this was characteristic. Lounging about the stalls until he found just the sort of old codger he wanted, he scraped up an acquaintance with him on the spot, and succeeded in making himself so agreeable that when the old fellow sauntered back to the stables to take a look at his horse, Sweetwater accompanied him. Hanging round the stable-door, he kept up his chatter, while sizing up the bottles heaped in the cart at his side. He even allowed himself to touch one or two in an absent way, and was meditating an accidental upset of the whole collection when a woman he had not seen before, thrust her head out of a rear window, shouting sharply:

“Leave those bottles alone. They’re waiting for the old clothes man. He pays us money for them.”

Sweetwater gaped and strolled away. He had used his eyes to purpose, and was quite assured that the bottle he wanted was not there. But the woman’s words had given him his cue, and when later in the day a certain old Jew peddler went his rounds through this portion of the city, a disreputable-looking fellow accompanied him, whom even the sharp landlady in Cuthbert Road would have failed to recognise as the same man who had occupied the snuggery the night before. He was many hours on the route and had many new experiences with human nature. But he gained little else, and was considering with what words he should acknowledge his defeat at police headquarters, when he found himself again at the markets and a minute later in the alley where the cart stood, with the contents of which he had busied himself earlier in the day.

He had followed the peddler here because he had followed him to every other back door and alley. But he was tired and had small interest in the cart which looked quite undisturbed and in exactly the same condition as when he turned his back upon it in the morning. But when he drew nearer and began to lend a hand in removing the bottles to the waggon, he discovered that a bottle had been added to the pile, and that this bottle bore the label which marked it as being one of the two which had been taken from the club-house on the night of the murder.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/green/anna_katharine/house_of_the_whispering_pines/chapter16.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37