The House of the Whispering Pines, by Anna Katharine Green

xxv

“I Am Innocent”

All is oblique,

There’s nothing level in our cursed natures,

But direct villainy. Therefore, be abhorred

All feasts, societies, and throngs of men!

His semblable, yea, himself, Timon disdains.

Timon of Athens.

I was early in my seat. Feeling the momentousness of the occasion — for this day must decide my action for or against the prisoner — I searched the faces of the jury, of the several counsel, and of the judge. I was anxious to know what I had to expect from them, in case my conscience got the better of my devotion to Carmel’s interests and led me into that declaration of the real facts which was forever faltering on my tongue, without having, as yet, received the final impetus which could only end in speech.

To give him his rightful precedence, the judge showed an impenetrable countenance but little changed from that with which he had faced us all from the start. He, like most of the men involved in these proceedings, had been a close friend of the prisoner’s father, and, in his capacity of judge in this momentous trial, had had to contend with his personal predilections, possibly with concealed sympathies, if not with equally well-concealed prejudices. This had lent to his aspect a sternness never observable in it before; but no man, even the captious Mr. Moffat, had seriously questioned his rulings; and, whatever the cost to himself, he had, up to this time, held the scales of justice so evenly that it would have taken an audacious mind to have ventured on an interpretation of his real attitude or mental leaning in this case.

From this imposing presence, nobly sustained by a well-proportioned figure and a head and face indicative of intellect and every kindly attribute, I turned to gaze upon Mr. Fox and his colleagues. One spirit seemed to animate them — confidence in their case, and unqualified satisfaction at its present status.

I was conscious of a certain ironic impulse to smile, as I noted the eager whisper and the bustle of preparation with which they settled upon their next witness and prepared to open their batteries upon him. How easily I could call down that high look, and into what a turmoil I could throw them all by an ingenuous demand to be recalled to the stand!

But the psychological moment had not yet come, and I subdued the momentary impulse and proceeded with my scrutiny of the people about me. The jury looked tired, with the exception of one especially alert little man who drank in even the most uninteresting details with avidity. But they all had good faces, and none could doubt their interest, or that they were fully alive to the significance of the occasion.

Mr. Moffat, leading counsel for the defendant, was a spare man of unusual height, modified a little, and only a little, by the forward droop of his shoulders. Nervous in manner, quick, short, sometimes rasping in speech, he had the changeful eye and mobile expression of a very sensitive nature; and from him, if from any one, I might hope to learn how much or how little Arthur had to fear from the day’s proceedings. But Mr. Moffat’s countenance was not as readable as usual. He looked preoccupied — a strange thing for him; and, instead of keeping his eye on the witness, as was his habitual practice, he allowed it to wander over the sea of heads before him, with a curious expectant interest which aroused my own curiosity, and led me to hunt about for its cause.

My first glance was unproductive. I saw only the usual public, such as had confronted us the whole week, with curious and increasing interest. But as I searched further, I discerned in an inconspicuous corner, the bowed head, veiled almost beyond recognition, of Ella Fulton. It was her first appearance in court. Each day I had anticipated her presence, and each day I had failed to see my anticipations realised. But she was here now, and so were her father and her cold and dominating mother; and, beholding her thus accompanied, I fancied I understood Mr. Moffat’s poorly concealed excitement. But another glance at Mrs. Fulton assured me that I was mistaken in this hasty surmise. No such serious purpose, as I feared, lay back of their presence here to-day. Curiosity alone explained it; and as I realised what this meant, and how little understanding it betokened of the fierce struggle then going on in the timid breast of their distracted child, a sickening sense of my own responsibility drove Carmel’s beauty, and Carmel’s claims temporarily from my mind, and following the direction of Ella’s thoughts, if not her glances, I sought in the face of the prisoner a recognition of her presence, if not of the promise this presence brought him.

His eye had just fallen on her. I was assured of this by the sudden softening of his expression — the first real softening I had ever seen in it. It was but a momentary flash, but it was unmistakable in its character, as was his speedy return to his former stolidity. Whatever his thoughts were at sight of his little sweetheart, he meant to hide them even from his counsel — most of all from his counsel, I decided after further contemplation of them both. If Mr. Moffat still showed nervousness, it was for some other reason than anxiety about this little body hiding from sight behind the proudly held figures of father and mother.

The opening testimony of the day, while not vital, was favourable to the prosecution in that it showed Arthur’s conduct since the murder to have been inconsistent with perfect innocence. His belated return at noon the next day, raging against the man who had been found in an incriminating position on the scene of crime, while at the same time failing to betray his own presence there till driven to it by accumulating circumstances and the persistent inquiries of the police; the care he took to avoid drink, though constant tippling was habitual to him and formed the great cause of quarrel between himself and the murdered Adelaide; his haunting of Carmel’s door and anxious listening for any words she might let fall in her delirium; the suspicion which he constantly betrayed of the nurse when for any reason he was led to conclude that she had heard something which he had not; his behaviour at the funeral and finally his action in demanding to have the casket-lid removed that he might look again at the face he had made no effort to gaze upon when opportunity offered and time and place were seemly: these facts and many more were brought forward in grim array against the prisoner, with but little opposition from his counsel and small betrayal of feeling on the part of Arthur himself. His stolid face had remained stolid even when the ring which had fallen out of his sister’s casket was shown to the jury and the connection made between its presence there and the intrusion of his hand into the same, on the occasion above mentioned. This once thoughtless, pleasure-loving, and hopelessly dissipated boy had not miscalculated his nerve. It was sufficient for an ordeal which might have tried the courage and self-possession of the most hardened criminal.

Then came the great event of the day, in anticipation of which the court-room had been packed, and every heart within it awakened by slow degrees to a state of great nervous expectancy. The prosecution rested and the junior counsel for the defence opened his case to the jury.

If I had hoped for any startling disclosure, calculated to establish his client’s alleged alibi, or otherwise to free the same from the definite charge of murder, I had reason to be greatly disappointed by this maiden effort of a young and inexperienced lawyer. If not exactly weak, there was an unexpected vagueness in its statements which seemed quite out of keeping with the emphatic declaration which he made of the prisoner’s innocence.

Even Arthur was sensible of the bad effect made by this preliminary address. More than once during its delivery and notably at its conclusion, he turned to Mr. Moffat, with a bitter remark, which was not without effect on that gentleman’s cheek, and at once called forth a retort stinging enough to cause Arthur to sink back into his place, with the first sign of restlessness I had observed in him.

“Moffat is sly. Moffat has something up his sleeve. I will wait till he sees fit to show it,” was my thought; then, as I caught a wild and pleading look from Ella, I added in positive assertion to myself, “And so must she.”

Answering her unspoken appeal with an admonitory shake of the head, I carelessly let my fingers rest upon my mouth until I saw that she understood me and was prepared to follow my lead for a little while longer.

My satisfaction at this was curtailed by the calling of Arthur Cumberland to the stand to witness in his own defence.

I had dreaded this contingency. I saw that for some reason, both his counsel and associate counsel, were not without their own misgivings as to the result of their somewhat doubtful experiment.

A change was observable in this degenerate son of the Cumberlands since many there had confronted him face to face. Physically he was improved. Enough time had elapsed since his sudden dropping of old habits, for him to have risen above its first effects and to have acquired that tone of personal dignity which follows a successful issue to any moral conflict. But otherwise the difference was such as to arouse doubt as to the real man lurking behind his dogged, uncommunicative manner.

Even with the knowledge of his motives which I believed myself to possess, I was at a loss to understand his indifference to self and the immobility of manner he maintained under all circumstances and during every fluctuation which took place in the presentation of his case, or in the temper of the people surrounding him. I felt that beyond the one fact that he could be relied upon to protect Carmel’s name and Carmel’s character, even to the jeopardising of his case, he was not to be counted on, and might yet startle many of us, and most notably of all, the little woman waiting to hear what he had to say in his own defence before she threw herself into the breach and made that devoted attempt to save him, in his own despite, which had been my terror from the first and was my terror now.

Perjury! but not in his own defence — rather in opposition to it — that is what his counsel had to fear; and I wondered if they knew it. My attention became absorbed in the puzzle. Carmel’s fate, if not Ella’s — and certainly my own — hung upon the issue. This I knew, and this I faced, calmly, but very surely, as, the preliminary questions having been answered, Mr. Moffat proceeded.

The witness’s name having been demanded and given and some other preliminary formalities gone through, he was asked:

“Mr. Cumberland, did you have any quarrel with your sister during the afternoon or evening of December the second?”

“I did.” Then, as if not satisfied with this simple statement, he blurted forth: “And it wasn’t the first. I hated the discipline she imposed upon me, and the disapproval she showed of my ways and the manner in which I chose to spend my money.”

A straightforward expression of feeling, but hardly a judicious one.

Judge Edwards glanced, in some surprise, from Mr. Moffat to the daring man who could choose thus to usher in his defence; and then, forgetting his own emotions, in his instinctive desire for order, rapped sharply with his gavel in correction of the audible expression of a like feeling on the part of the expectant audience.

Mr. Moffat, apparently unaffected by this result of his daring move, pursued his course, with the quiet determination of one who sees his goal and is working deliberately towards it.

“Do you mind particularising? Of what did she especially disapprove in your conduct or way of spending money?”

“She disapproved of my fondness for drink. She didn’t like my late hours, or the condition in which I frequently came home. I did not like her expressions of displeasure, or the way she frequently cut me short when I wanted to have a good time with my friends. We never agreed. I made her suffer often and unnecessarily. I regret it now; she was a better sister to me than I could then understand.”

This was uttered slowly and with a quiet emphasis which reawakened that excited hum the judge had been at such pains to quell a moment before. But he did not quell it now; he seemed to have forgotten his duty in the strong interest called up by these admissions from the tongue of the most imperturbable prisoner he had had before him in years.

Mr. Moffat, with an eye on District Attorney Fox, who had shown his surprise at the trend the examination was taking by a slight indication of uneasiness, grateful enough, no doubt, to the daring counsellor, went on with his examination:

“Mr. Cumberland, will you tell us when you first felt this change of opinion in regard to your sister?”

Mr. Fox leaped to his feet. Then he slowly reseated himself. Evidently he thought it best to let the prisoner have his full say. Possibly he may have regretted his leniency the next moment when, with a solemn lowering of his head, Arthur answered:

“When I saw my home desolated in one dreadful night. With one sister dead in the house, the victim of violence, and another delirious from fright or some other analogous cause, I had ample time to think — and I used that time. That’s all.”

Simple words, read or repeated; but in that crowded court-room, with every ear strained to catch the lie which seemed the only refuge for the man so hemmed in by circumstance, these words, uttered without the least attempt at effect, fell with a force which gave new life to such as wished to see this man acquitted.

His counsel, as if anxious to take advantage of this very expectation to heighten the effect of what followed, proceeded immediately to inquire:

“When did you see your sister Adelaide for the last time alive?”

A searching question. What would be his reply?

A very quiet one.

“That night at the dinner-table. When I left the room, I turned to look at her. She was not looking at me; so I slammed the door and went upstairs. In an hour or so, I had left the house to get a drink. I got the drink, but I never saw Adelaide again till I saw her in her coffin.”

This blunt denial of the crime for which he stood there arraigned, fell on my heart with a weight which showed me how inextinguishable is the hope we cherish deep down under all surface convictions. I had been unconscious of this hope, but it was there. It seemed to die a double death at these words. For I believed him! Courage is needed for a lie. There were no signs visible in him, as yet, of his having drawn upon this last resource of the despairing. I should know it when he did; he could not hide the subtle change from me.

To others, this declaration came with greater or less force, according as it was viewed in the light of a dramatic trick of Mr. Moffat’s, or as the natural outburst of a man fighting for his life in his own way and with his own weapons. I could not catch the eye of Ella cowering low in her seat, so could not judge what tender chords had been struck in her sensitive breast by these two assertions so dramatically offset against each other — the one, his antagonism to the dead; the other, his freedom from the crime in which that antagonism was supposed to have culminated.

Mr. Moffat, satisfied so far, put his next question with equal directness:

“Mr. Cumberland, you have mentioned seeing your sister in her coffin. When was this?”

“At the close of her funeral, just before she was carried out.”

“Was that the first and only time you had seen her so placed?”

“It was.”

“Had you seen the casket itself prior to this moment of which you speak?”

“I had not.”

“Had you been near it? Had you handled it in any way?”

“No, sir.”

“Mr. Cumberland, you have heard mention made of a ring worn by your sister in life, but missing from her finger after death?”

“I have.”

“You remember this ring?”

“I do.”

“Is this it?”

“It is, so far as I can judge at this distance.”

“Hand the ring to the witness,” ordered the judge.

The ring was so handed.

He glanced at it, and said bitterly: “I recognise it. It was her engagement ring.”

“Was this ring on her finger that night at the dinner-table?”

“I cannot say, positively, but I believe so. I should have noticed its absence.”

“Why, may I ask?”

For the first time the prisoner flushed and the look he darted at his counsel had the sting of a reproach in it. Yet he answered: “It was the token of an engagement I didn’t believe in or like. I should have hailed any proof that this engagement was off.”

Mr. Moffat smiled enigmatically.

“Mr. Cumberland, if you are not sure of having seen this ring then, when did you see it and where?”

A rustle from end to end of that crowded court-room. This was an audacious move. What was coming? What would be the answer of the man who was believed not only to have made himself the possessor of this ring, but to have taken a most strange and uncanny method of disposing of it afterward? In the breathless hush which followed this first involuntary expression of feeling, Arthur’s voice rose, harsh but steady in this reply:

“I saw it when the police showed it to me, and asked me if I could identify it.”

“Was that the only time you have seen it up to the present moment?”

Instinctively, the witness’s right hand rose; it was as if he were mentally repeating his oath before he uttered coldly and with emphasis, though without any show of emotion:

“It is.”

The universal silence gave way to a universal sigh of excitement and relief. District Attorney Fox’s lips curled with an imperceptible smile of disdain, which might have impressed the jury if they had been looking his way; but they were all looking with eager and interested eyes at the prisoner, who had just uttered this second distinct and unequivocal denial.

Mr. Moffat noted this, and his own lip curled, but with a very different show of feeling from that which had animated his distinguished opponent. Without waiting for the present sentiment to cool, he proceeded immediately with his examination:

“You swear that you have seen this ring but once since the night of your sister’s death, and that was when it was shown you in the coroner’s office?”

“I do.”

“Does this mean that it was not in your possession at any time during that interim?”

“It certainly does.”

“Mr. Cumberland, more than one witness has testified to the fact of your having been seen to place your hand in the casket of your sister, before the eyes of the minister and of others attending her funeral. Is this true?”

“It is.”

“Was not this a most unusual thing to do?”

“Perhaps. I was not thinking about that. I had a duty to perform, and I performed it.”

“A duty? Will you explain to the jury what duty?”

The witness’s head rose, then sank. He, as well as every one else, seemed to be impressed by the solemnity of the moment. Though the intensity of my own interest would not allow my eyes to wander from his face, I could imagine the strained look in Ella’s, as she awaited his words.

They came in another instant, but with less steadiness than he had shown before. I even thought I could detect a tremor in his muscles, as well as in his voice:

“I had rebelled against my sister’s wishes; I had grieved and deceived her up to the very night of her foul and unnatural death — and all through drink.”

Here his eye flashed, and for that fleeting moment he looked a man. “I wished to take an oath — an oath I would remember. It was for this purpose I ordered the casket opened, and thrust my fingers through the flowers I found there. When my fingers touched my sister’s brow, I inwardly swore never to taste liquor again. I have kept that oath. Difficult as it was, in my state of mind, and with all my troubles, I have kept it — and been misunderstood in doing so,” he added, in lower tones, and with just a touch of bitterness.

It was such an unexpected explanation, and so calculated to cause a decided and favourable reaction in the minds of those who had looked upon this especial act of his as an irrefutable proof of guilt, that it was but natural that some show of public feeling should follow. But this was checked almost immediately, and Mr. Moffat’s voice was heard rising again in his strange but telling examination:

“When you thrust your hand in to take this oath, did you drop anything into your sister’s casket?”

“I did not. My hand was empty. I held no ring, and dropped none in. I simply touched her forehead.”

This added to the feeling; and, in another instant, the excitement might have risen into hubbub, had not the emotions of one little woman found vent in a low and sobbing cry which relieved the tension and gave just the relief needed to hold in check the overstrained feelings of the crowd. I knew the voice and cast one quick glance that way, in time to see Ella sinking affrightedly out of sight under the dismayed looks of father and mother; then, anxious to note whether the prisoner had recognised her, too, looked hastily back to find him standing quietly and unmoved, with his eyes on his counsel and his lips set in the stern line which was slowly changing his expression.

That counsel, strangely alive to the temper and feelings of his audience, waited just long enough for the few simple and solemn words uttered by the accused man to produce their full effect, then with a side glance at Mr. Fox, whose equanimity he had at last succeeded in disturbing, and whose cross-examination of the prisoner he had still to fear, continued his own examination by demanding why, when the ring was discovered in Adelaide’s casket and he saw what inferences would be drawn from the fact, he had not made an immediate public explanation of his conduct and the reasons he had had for putting his hand there.

“I’m not a muff,” shot from the prisoner’s lips, in his old manner. “A man who would take such an oath, in such a way, and at such a time, is not the man to talk about it until he is forced to. I would not talk about it now —”

He was checked at this point; but the glimpse we thus obtained of the natural man, in this indignant and sullen outburst, following so quickly upon the solemn declarations of the moment before, did more for him in the minds of those present than the suavest and most discreet answer given under the instigation of his counsel. Every face showed pleasure, and for a short space, if for no longer, all who listened were disposed to accept his assertions and accord the benefit of doubt to this wayward son of an esteemed father.

To me, who had hoped nothing from Moffat’s efforts, the substantial nature of the defence thus openly made manifest, brought reanimation and an unexpected confidence in the future.

The question as to who had dropped the ring into the casket if Arthur had not — the innocent children, the grieving servants — was latent, of course, in every breast, but it had not yet reached the point demanding expression.

Meanwhile, the examination proceeded.

“Mr. Cumberland, you have stated that you did not personally drop this ring into the place where it was ultimately found. Can you tell us of your own knowledge who did?”

“I cannot. I know nothing about the ring. I was much surprised, probably more surprised than any one else, to hear of its discovery in that place.”

The slip — and it was a slip for him to introduce that more— was immediately taken advantage of by his counsel.

“You say ‘more,’ Why should it be more of a surprise to you than to any one else to learn where this missing engagement ring of your sister’s had been found?”

Again that look of displeasure directed towards his questioner, and a certain additional hardness in his reply, when he finally made it.

“I was her brother. I had a brother’s antipathies and rightful suspicions. I could not see how that ring came to be where it was, when the only one interested in its restoration was in prison.”

This was a direct blow at myself, and of course called Mr. Fox to his feet, with a motion to strike out this answer. An altercation followed between him and Mr. Moffat, which, deeply as it involved my life and reputation, failed to impress me, as it might otherwise have done, if my whole mind had not been engaged in reconciling the difficulty about this ring with what I knew of Carmel and the probability which existed of her having been responsible for its removal from her sister’s hand. But Carmel had been ill since, desperately ill and unconscious. She could have had nothing to do with its disposal afterwards among the flowers at her sister’s funeral. Nor had she been in a condition to delegate this act of concealment to another. Who, then, had been the intermediary in this business? The question was no longer a latent one in my mind; it was an insistent one, compelling me either to discredit Arthur’s explanation (in which case anything might be believed of him) or to accept for good and all this new theory that some person of unknown identity had played an accessory’s part in this crime, whose full burden I had hitherto laid upon the shoulders of the impetuous Carmel. Either hypothesis brought light. I began to breathe again the air of hope, and if observed at that moment, must have presented the odd spectacle of a man rejoicing in his own shame and accepting with positive uplift, the inevitable stigma cast upon his honour by the suggestive sentence just hurled at him by an indignant witness.

The point raised by the district attorney having been ruled upon and sustained by the court, Mr. Moffat made no effort to carry his inquiries any further in the direction indicated; but I could see, with all my inexperience of the law and the ways of attorneys before a jury, that the episode had produced its inevitable result, and that my position, as a man released from suspicion, had received a shock, the results of which I might yet be made to feel.

A moment’s pause followed, during which some of Mr. Moffat’s nervousness returned. He eyed the prisoner doubtfully, found him stoical and as self-contained as at the beginning of his examination, and plunged into a topic which most people had expected him to avoid. I certainly had, and felt all the uncertainty and secret alarm which an unexpected move occasions where the issue is momentous with life or death. I was filled with terror, not for the man on trial, but for my secret. Was it shared by the defence? Was Mr. Moffat armed with the knowledge I thought confined to myself and Arthur? Had the latter betrayed the cause I had been led to believe he was ready to risk his life to defend? Had I mistaken his gratitude to myself; or had I underrated Mr. Moffat’s insight or powers of persuasion? We had just been made witness to one triumph on the part of this able lawyer in a quarter deemed unassailable by the prosecution. Were we about to be made witnesses of another? I felt the sweat start on my forehead, and was only able to force myself into some show of self-possession by the evident lack of perfect assurance with which this same lawyer now addressed his client.

The topic which had awakened in me these doubts and consequent agitation will appear from the opening question.

“Mr. Cumberland, to return to the night of your sister’s death. Can you tell us what overcoat you put on when leaving your house?”

Arthur was as astonished and certainly as disconcerted, if not as seriously alarmed, as I was, by this extraordinary move. Surprise, anger, then some deeper feeling rang in his voice as he replied:

“I cannot. I took down the first I saw and the first hat.“

The emphasis placed on the last three words may have been meant as a warning to his audacious counsel, but if so, it was not heeded.

“Took down? Took down from where?”

“From the rack in the hall where I hang my things; the side hall leading to the door where we usually go out.”

“Have you many coats — overcoats, I mean?”

“More than one.”

“And you do not know which one you put on that cold night?”

“I do not.”

“But you know what one you wore back?”

“No.”

Short, sharp, and threatening was this no. A war was on between this man and his counsel, and the wonder it occasioned was visible in every eye. Perhaps Mr. Moffat realised this; this was what he had dreaded, perhaps. At all events, he proceeded with his strange task, in apparent oblivion of everything but his own purpose.

“You do not know what one you wore back?”

“I do not.”

“You have seen the hat and coat which have been shown here and sworn to as being the ones in which you appeared on your return to the house, the day following your sister’s murder?”

“I have.”

“Also the hat and coat found on a remote hook in the closet under the stairs, bearing the flour-mark on its under brim?”

“Yes, that too.”

“Yet cannot say which of these two overcoats you put on when you left your home, an hour or so after finishing your dinner?”

Trapped by his own lawyer — visibly and remorselessly trapped! The blood, shooting suddenly into the astounded prisoner’s face, was reflected on the cheeks of the other lawyers present. Even Mr. Fox betrayed his surprise; but it was a surprise not untinged by apprehension. Mr. Moffat must feel very sure of himself to venture thus far. I, who feared to ask myself the cause of this assurance, could only wait and search the partially visible face of little Ella for an enlightenment, which was no more to be found there than in the swollen features of the outraged Arthur. The excitement which this event caused, afforded the latter some few moments in which to quell his own indignation; and when he spoke, it was passionately, yet not without some effort at restraint.

“I cannot. I was in no condition to notice. I was bent on going into town, and immediately upon coming downstairs went straight to the rack and pulled on the first things that offered.”

It appeared to be a perfect give-a-way. And it was, but it was a give-a-way which, I feared, threatened Carmel rather than her brother.

Mr. Moffat, still nervous, still avoiding the prisoner’s eye, relentlessly pursued his course, unmindful — wilfully so, it appeared — of the harm he was doing himself, as well as the witness.

“Mr. Cumberland, were a coat and hat all that you took from that hall?”

“No, I took a key — a key from the bunch which I saw lying on the table.”

“Did you recognise this key?”

“I did.”

“What key was it?”

“It belonged to Mr. Ranelagh, and was the key to the club-house wine-vault.”

“Where did you put it after taking it up?”

“In my trousers’ pocket.”

“What did you do then?”

“Went out, of course.”

“Without seeing anybody?”

“Of course. Whom should I see?”

It was angrily said, and the flush, which had begun to die away, slowly made its way back into his cheeks.

“Are you willing to repeat that you saw no one?”

“There was no one.”

A lie! All knew it, all felt it. The man was perjuring himself, under his own counsel’s persistent questioning on a point which that counsel had evidently been warned by him to avoid. I was assured of this by the way Moffat failed to meet Arthur’s eye, as he pressed on hastily, and in a way to forestall all opposition.

“There are two ways of leaving your house for the city. Which way did you take?”

“The shortest. I went through my neighbour’s grounds to Huested Street.”

“Immediately?”

“As soon as I could. I don’t know what you mean by immediately.”

“Didn’t you stop at the stable?”

A pause, during which more than one person present sat breathless. These questions were what might be expected from Mr. Fox in cross-examination. They seemed totally unsuited to a direct examination at the hands of his own counsel. What did such an innovation mean?

“Yes, I stopped at the stable.”

“What to do?”

“To look at the horses.”

“Why?”

“One of them had gone lame. I wanted to see his condition.”

“Was it the grey mare?”

Had the defence changed places with the prosecution? It looked like it; and Arthur looked as if he considered Mr. Moffat guilty of the unheard of, inexplainable act, of cross-examining his own witness. The situation was too tempting for Mr. Fox to resist calling additional attention to it. With an assumption of extreme consideration, he leaned forward and muttered under his breath to his nearest colleague, but still loud enough for those about him to hear:

“The prisoner must know that he is not bound to answer questions when such answers tend to criminate him.”.

A lightning glance, shot in his direction, was the eloquent advocate’s sole reply.

But Arthur, nettled into speaking, answered the question put him, in a loud, quick tone: “It was not the grey mare; but I went up to the grey mare before going out; I patted her and bade her be a good girl.”

“Where was she then?”

“Where she belonged — in her stall.”

The tones had sunk; so had the previously lifted head; he no longer commanded universal sympathy or credence. The effect of his former avowals was almost gone.

Yet Mr. Moffat could smile. As I noticed this, and recognised the satisfaction it evinced, my heart went down, in great trouble. This esteemed advocate, the hero of a hundred cases, was not afraid to have it known that Arthur had harnessed that mare; he even wanted it known. Why? There could be but one answer to that — or, so I thought, at the moment. The next, I did not know what to think; for he failed to pursue this subject, and simply asked Arthur if, upon leaving, he had locked the stable-door.

“Yes — no — I don’t remember,” was the bungling, and greatly confused reply.

Mr. Moffat glanced at the jury, the smile still on his lips. Did he wish to impress that body with the embarrassment of his client?

“Relate what followed. I am sure the jury will be glad to hear your story from your own lips.”

“It’s a beastly one, but if I’ve got to tell it, here it is: I went straight down to Cuthbert Road and across the fields to the club-house. I had not taken the key to the front door, because I knew of a window I could shake loose. I did this and went immediately down to the wine-vault. I used an electric torch of my own for light. I pulled out several bottles, and carried them up into the kitchen, meaning to light the gas, kindle a fire, and have a good time generally. But I soon found that I must do without light if I stayed there. The meter had been taken out; and to drink by the flash of an electric torch was anything but a pleasing prospect. Besides —” here he flashed at his counsel a glance, which for a moment took that gentleman aback —“I had heard certain vague sounds in the house which alarmed me, as well as roused my curiosity. Choosing the bottle I liked best, I went to investigate these sounds.”

Mr. Moffat started. His witness was having his revenge. Kept in ignorance of his counsel’s plan of defence, he was evidently advancing testimony new to that counsel. I had not thought the lad so subtle, and quaked in secret contemplation of the consequences. So did some others; but the interest was intense. He had heard sounds — he acknowledged it. But what sounds?

Observing the excitement he had caused, and gratified, perhaps, that he had succeeded in driving that faint but unwelcome smile from Mr. Moffat’s lips, Arthur hastened to add:

“But I did not complete my investigations. Arrived at the top of the stairs, I heard what drove me from the house at once. It was my sister’s voice — Adelaide’s. She was in the building, and I stood almost on a level with her, with a bottle in my pocket. It did not take me a minute to clamber through the window. I did not stop to wonder, or ask why she was there, or to whom she was speaking. I just fled and made my way as well as I could across the golf-links to a little hotel on Cuthbert Road, where I had been once before. There I emptied my bottle, and was so overcome by it that I did not return home till noon the next day. It was on the way to the Hill that I was told of the awful occurrence which had taken place in the club-house after I had left it. That sobered me. I have been sober ever since.”

Mr. Moffat’s smile came back. One might have said that he had been rather pleased than otherwise by the introduction of this unexpected testimony.

But I doubt if any one but myself witnessed this evidence of good-humour on his part. Arthur’s attitude and Arthur’s manner had drawn all eyes to himself. As the last words I have recorded left his lips, he had raised his head and confronted the jury with a straightforward gaze. The sturdiness and immobility of his aspect were impressive, in spite of his plain features and the still unmistakable signs of long cherished discontent and habitual dissipation. He had struck bottom with his feet, and there he would stand — or so I thought as I levelled my own glances at him.

But I had not fully sounded all of Alonzo Moffat’s resources. That inscrutable lawyer and not-easily-to-be-understood man seemed determined to mar every good impression his unfortunate client managed to make.

Ignoring the new facts just given, undoubtedly thinking that they would be amply sifted in the coming cross-examination, he drew the attention of the prisoner to himself by the following question:

“Will you tell us again how many bottles of wine you took from the club-house?”

“One. No — I’m not sure about that — I’m not sure of anything. I had only one when at the inn in Cuthbert Road.”

“You remember but one?”

“I had but one. One was enough. I had trouble in carrying that.”

“Was the ground slippery?”

“It was snowy and it was uneven. I stumbled more than once in crossing the links.”

“Mr. Cumberland, is there anything you would like to say in your own defence before I close this examination?”

The prisoner thus appealed to, let his eye rest for a moment on the judge, then on the jury, and finally on one little white face lifted from the crowd before him as if to meet and absorb his look. Then he straightened himself, and in a quiet and perfectly natural voice, uttered these simple words:

“Nothing but this: I am innocent.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/green/anna_katharine/house_of_the_whispering_pines/chapter25.html

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