The House of the Whispering Pines, by Anna Katharine Green

xxi

Carmel Awakes

One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,

So fast they follow.

Hamlet.

Later, I asked myself many questions, and wandered into mazes of speculation which only puzzled me and led nowhere. I remembered the bottles; I remembered the ring. I went back, in fancy, to the hour of my own entrance into the club-house, and, recalling each circumstance, endeavoured to fit the facts of Arthur’s story with those of my own experience.

Was he in the building when I first stepped into it? It was just possible. I had been led to prevaricate as to the moment I entered the lower gateway, and he may have done the same as to the hour he left by the upper hall window. Whatever his denials on this or any subject, I was convinced that he knew, as well as I, that Carmel had been in the building with her sister, and was involved more or less personally in the crime committed there. Might it not be simply as his accessory after the fact? If only I could believe this! If my knowledge of him and of her would allow me to hug this forlorn hope, and behold, in this shock to her brain, and in her look and attitude on leaving the club-house, only a sister’s horror at a wilful brother’s crime!

But one fact stood in the way of this — a fact which nothing but some predetermined, underhanded purpose on her part could explain. She had gone in disguise to The Whispering Pines, and she had returned home in the same suspicious fashion. The wearing of her brother’s hat and coat over her own womanly garments was no freak. There had been purpose in it — a purpose which demanded secrecy. That Adelaide should have accompanied her under these circumstances was a mystery. But then the whole affair was a mystery, totally out of keeping, in all its details, with the characters of these women, save — and what a fearful exception I here make — the awful end, which, alas! bespoke the fiery rush and impulse to destroy which marked Carmel’s unbridled rages.

Of a less emotional attack she would be as incapable as any other good woman. Poison she would never use. Its presence there was due to another’s forethought, another’s determination. But the poison had not killed. Both glasses had been emptied, but — Ah! those glasses. What explanation had the police, now, for those two emptied glasses? They had hitherto supposed me to be the second person who had joined Adelaide in this totally uncharacteristic drinking.

To whom did they now attribute this act? To Arthur, the brother whose love for liquor in every form she had always decried, and had publicly rebuked only a few hours before? Knowing nothing of Carmel having been on the scene, they must ascribe this act either to him or to me; and when they came to dwell upon this point more particularly — when they came to study the exact character of the relations which had always subsisted between Adelaide and her brother — they must see the improbability of her drinking with him under any circumstances. Then their thoughts would recur to me, and I should find myself again a suspect. The monstrous suggestion that Arthur had brought the liquor there himself, had poured it out and forced her to drink it, poison and all, out of revenge for her action at the dinner-table a short time before, did not occur to me then, but if it had, there were the three glasses — he would not bring three; nor would Adelaide; nor, as I saw it, would Carmel.

Chaos! However one looked at it, chaos! Only one fact was clear — that Carmel knew the whole story and might communicate the same, if ever her brain cleared and she could be brought to reveal the mysteries of that hour. Did I desire such a consummation? Only God, who penetrates more deeply than ourselves into the hidden regions of the human heart, could tell. I only know that the fear and expectation of such an outcome made my anguish for the next two weeks.

Would she live? Would she die? The question was on every tongue. The crisis of her disease was approaching, and the next twenty-four hours would decide her fate, and in consequence, my own, if not her brother Arthur’s. As I contemplated the suspense of these twenty-four hours, I revolted madly for the first time against the restrictions of my prison. I wanted air, movement, the rush into danger, which my horse or my automobile might afford. Anything which would drag my thoughts from that sick room, and the anticipated stir of that lovely form into conscious life and suffering. Her eyes — I could see her eyes wakening upon the world again, after her long wandering in the unknown and unimaginable intricacies of ungoverned thought and delirious suggestion. Eyes of violet colour and infinite expression; eyes which would make a man’s joy if they smiled on him in innocence; but which, as I well knew, had burned more than once, in her short but strenuous life, with fiery passions; and might, at the instant of waking, betray this same unholy gleam under the curious gaze of the unsympathetic ones set in watch over her.

What would her first word be? Whither would her first thought fly? To Adelaide or to me; to Arthur or to her own frightened and appalled self? I maddened as I dwelt upon the possibilities of this moment. I envied Arthur; I envied the attendants; I envied even the servants in the house. They would all know sooner than I. Carmel! Carmel!

Sending for Clifton, I begged him to keep himself in communication with the house, or with the authorities. He promised to do what he could; then, perceiving the state I was in, he related all he knew of present conditions. No one was allowed in the sick room but the nurse and the doctor. Even Arthur was denied admission, and was wearing himself out in his own room as I was wearing myself out here, in restless inactivity. He expected her to sink and never to recover consciousness, and was loud in his expressions of rebellion against the men who dared to keep him from her bedside when her life was trembling in the balance. But the nurse had hopes and so had the doctor. As for Carmel’s looks, they were greatly changed, but beautiful still in spite of the cruel scar left by her fall against the burning bars of her sister’s grate. No delirium disturbed the rigid immobility in which she now lay. I could await her awakening with quiet confidence in the justice of God.

Thus Clifton, in his ignorance.

The day was a bleak one, dispiriting in itself even to those who could go about the streets and lose themselves in their tasks and round of duties. To me it was a dead blank, marked by such interruptions as necessarily took place under the prison routine. The evening hours which followed them were no better. The hands on my watch crawled. When the door finally opened, it came as a shock. I seemed to be prepared for anything but the termination of my suspense. I knew that it was Clifton who entered, but I could not meet his eye. I dug my nails into my palms, and waited for his first word. When it came, I felt my spirits go down, down — I had thought them at their lowest ebb before. He hesitated, and I started up:

“Tell me,” I cried. “Carmel is dead!”

“Not dead,” said he, “but silly. Her testimony is no more to be relied upon than that of any other wandering mind.”

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