The House of the Whispering Pines, by Anna Katharine Green

xxvii

Expectancy

I see your end,

‘T is my undoing.

King Henry VIII.

A turning-point had been reached in the defence. That every one knew after the first glance at Mr. Moffat, on the opening of the next morning’s session. As I noted the excitement which this occasioned even in quarters where self-control is usually most marked and such emotions suppressed, I marvelled at the subtle influence of one man’s expectancy, and the powerful effect which can be produced on a feverish crowd by a well-ordered silence suggestive of coming action.

I, who knew the basis of this expectancy and the nature of the action with which Mr. Moffat anticipated startling the court, was the quietest person present. Since it was my hand and none other which must give this fresh turn to the wheel of justice, it were well for me to do it calmly and without any of the old maddening throb of heart. But the time seemed long before Arthur was released from further cross-examination, and the opportunity given Mr. Moffat to call his next witness.

Something in the attitude he now took, something in the way he bent over his client and whispered a few admonitory words, and still more the emotion with which these words were received and answered by some extraordinary protest, aroused expectation to a still greater pitch, and made my course seem even more painful to myself than I had foreseen when dreaming over and weighing the possibilities of this hour. With something like terror, I awaited the calling of my name; and, when it was delayed, it was with emotions inexplicable to myself that I looked up and saw Mr. Moffat holding open a door at the left of the judge, with that attitude of respect, which a man only assumes in the presence and under the dominating influence of woman.

“Ella!” thought I. “Instead of saving her by my contemplated sacrifice of Carmel, I have only added one sacrifice to another.”

But when the timid faltering step we could faintly hear crossing the room beyond, had brought its possessor within sight, and I perceived the tall, black-robed, heavily veiled woman who reached for Mr. Moffat’s sustaining arm, I did not need the startling picture of the prisoner, standing upright, with outheld and repellant hands, to realise that the impossible had happened, and that all which he, as well as I, had done and left undone, suffered and suppressed, had been in vain.

Mr. Moffat, with no eye for him or for me, conducted his witness to a chair; then, as she loosened her veil and let it drop in her lap, he cried in tones which rang from end to end of the court-room: “I summon Carmel Cumberland to the stand, to witness in her brother’s defence.”

The surprise was complete. It was a great moment for Mr. Moffat; but for me all was confusion, dread, a veil of misty darkness, through which shone her face, marred by its ineffaceable scar, but calm as I had never expected to see it again in this life, and beautiful with a smile under which her deeply shaken and hardly conscious brother sank slowly back into his seat, amid a silence as profound as the hold she had immediately taken upon all hearts.

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