The House of the Whispering Pines, by Anna Katharine Green

xxviii

“Where is My Brother?”

Let me see the writing.

My lord, ‘t is nothing.

No matter, then, who sees it;

I will be satisfied, let me see the writing.

Richard II.

What is the explanation of Carmel’s reappearance in town and of this sensational introduction of her into the court-room, in a restored state of health of which no one, so far as known, had had any intimation save the man who was responsible for her appearance? The particulars are due you.

She had passed some weeks at Lakewood, under the eye of the nurse who was detailed to watch, as well as tend her. During these weeks she gave no sign of improvement mentally, though she constantly gained strength otherwise, and impressed everybody with the clear light in her eye and the absence of everything suggestive of gloom in her expression and language. There was the same complete loss of memory up to the time of the tragic occurrence which had desolated her home; the same harping at odd moments on Adelaide’s happiness and her own prospect of seeing this dear sister very soon which had marked the opening days of her convalescence. But beyond and back of all this was some secret joy, unintelligible to the nurse, which helped rather than retarded the sick girl’s recovery, and made Carmel appear at times as if she walked on air and breathed the very breath of Paradise — an anomaly which not only roused Miss Unwin’s curiosity, but led her to regard with something like apprehension, any change in her patient’s state of mind which would rob her of the strange and unseen delights which fed her secret soul and made her oblivious of the awful facts awaiting a restored memory.

Meanwhile Carmel was allowed such liberty as her condition required; but was never left alone for a moment after a certain day when her eye suddenly took on a strange look of confused inquiry, totally dissociated with anything she saw or heard. A stir had taken place in her brain, and her nurse wanted to take her back home. But this awakening — if such it could be called, was so short in its duration and was followed so immediately by a string of innocent questions about Adelaide, that Nurse Unwin concluded to remain a few days longer before risking this delicately balanced mind amid old scenes and the curious glances of her townspeople.

Alas! the awakening was to take place in Lakewood and under circumstances of the most ordinary nature. Carmel had been out and was just crossing the hall of her hotel to the elevator, when she stopped with a violent start and clutching the air, was caught by her nurse who had hurried up at the first intimation of anything unusual in the condition of her patient.

The cause of this agitation was immediately apparent. Near them sat two ladies, each with a small wine-glass in her hand. One was drinking, the other waiting and watching, but with every apparent intention of drinking when the other had ceased. A common sight enough, but it worked a revolution in Carmel’s darkened mind. The light of youthful joyousness fled from her face; and the cheek, just pulsing softly with new life, blanched to the death-like hue of mortal suffering. Dropping her eyes from the women, who saw nothing and continued to sip their wine in happy ignorance of the soul-tragedy going on within ten feet of them, she looked down at her dress, then up at the walls about her; and then slowly, anxiously, and with unmistakable terror, at the woman in whose arms she felt herself supported.

“Explain,” she murmured. “Where am I?”

“At Lakewood, in a hotel. You have been ill, and are only just recovering.”

Her hand went up to her cheek, the one that had been burned, and still showed the deep traces of that accident.

“I remember,” said she. Then with another glance at her dress, which had studiously been kept cheerful, she remarked, with deep reproach: “My sister is dead; why am I not in black?”

The nurse, realising her responsibility (she said afterwards that it was the most serious moment of her life), subdued her own astonishment at this proof of her young patient’s knowledge of a crime of which she was universally supposed to be entirely ignorant, and, bestowing a reassuring smile on the agitated girl, observed softly:

“You wore too ill to be burdened with black. You are better now and may assume it if you will. I will help you buy your mourning.”

“Yes, you look like a kind woman. What is your name, please, and are we here alone in this great hotel?”

Now, as a matter of expediency — to save Carmel from the unendurable curiosity of the crowd, and herself from the importunities of the New York reporters, Miss Unwin had registered herself and her charge under assumed names. She was, therefore, forced to reply:

“My name is Huckins, and we are here alone. But that need not worry you. I have watched over you night and day for many weeks.”

“You have? Because of this slight burn?” Again Carmel’s hand went to her cheek.

“Not on account of that only. You have had a serious illness quite apart from that injury. But you are better; you are almost well — well enough to go home, if you will.”

“I cannot go home — not just yet. I’m — I’m not strong enough. But we shouldn’t be here alone without some man to look after us. Miss Huckins, where is my brother?”

At this question, uttered with emphasis, with anxiety — with indignation even — Miss Unwin felt the emotion she had so successfully subdued up to this moment, betray itself in her voice as she answered, with a quiet motion towards the elevator: “Let us go up to our room. There I will answer all your questions.”

But Carmel, with the waywardness of her years — or perhaps, with deeper reasoning powers than the other would be apt to attribute to her — broke softly away from Miss Unwin’s detaining hand, and walking directly into the office, looked about for the newspaper stand. Miss Unwin, over-anxious not to make a scene, followed, but did not seek to deter her, until they were once again by themselves in the centre of the room. Then she ventured to speak again:

“We have all the papers in our room. Come up, and let me read them to you.”

But Fate was making ready its great stroke. Just as Carmel seemed about to yield to this persuasion, some lingering doubt drew her eyes again to the stand, just at the very moment a boy stepped into view with the evening bulletin, on which had just been written these words:

The Last Juror Obtained in the Trial of Arthur Cumberland for the Murder of His Sister, Adelaide.

Carmel saw, and stood — a breathless image of horror. A couple of gentlemen came running; but the nurse waved them back, and herself caught Carmel and upheld her, in momentary dread of another mental, if not physical, collapse.

But Carmel had come back into the world of consciousness to stay. Accepting her nurse’s support, but giving no sign of waning faculties or imperfect understanding of what she had seen, she spoke quite clearly and with her eyes fixed upon Miss Unwin:

“So that is why I am here, away from all my friends. Was I too ill to be told? Couldn’t you make me know what was happening? You or the doctors or — or anybody?”

“You were much too ill,” protested the nurse, leading her towards the elevator and so by degrees to her room. “I tried to arouse you after the crisis of your illness had passed; but you seemed to have forgotten everything which took place that night and the doctors warned me not to press you.”

“And Arthur — poor Arthur, has been the sufferer! Tell me the whole story. I can bear it,” she pleaded. “I can bear anything but not knowing. Why should he have fallen under suspicion? He was not even there. I must go to him! Pack up our clothing, Miss Huckins. I must go to him at once.”

They were in their own room now, and Carmel was standing quite by herself in the full light of the setting sun. With the utterance of this determination, she had turned upon her companion; and that astute and experienced woman had every opportunity for observing her face. There was a woman’s resolution in it. With the sudden rending of the clouds which had obscured her intellect, strange powers had awakened in this young girl, giving her a force of expression which, in connection with her inextinguishable beauty, formed a spectacle before which this older woman, in spite of her long experience, hesitated in doubt.

“You shall go —” began the nurse, and stopped.

Carmel was not listening. Another change of thought had come, and her features, as keenly alive now to every passing emotion as they had formerly been set in a dull placidity, mirrored doubts of her own, which had a deeper source than any which had disturbed the nurse, even in these moments of serious perplexity.

“How can I?” fell in unconscious betrayal from her lips. “How can I!” Then she stood silent, ghastly with lack of colour one minute, and rosy red with its excess the next, until it was hard to tell in which extreme her feeling spoke most truly.

What was the feeling? Nurse Unwin felt it imperative to know. Relying on the confidence shown her by this unfortunate girl, in her lonely position and unbearable distress, she approached Carmel, with renewed offers of help and such expressions of sympathy as she thought might lure her into open speech.

But discretion had come with fear, and Carmel, while not disdaining the other’s kindness, instantly made it apparent that, whatever her burden, and however unsuited it was to her present weak condition, it was not one she felt willing to share.

“I must think,” she murmured, as she finally followed the nurse’s lead and seated herself on a lounge. “Arthur on trial for his life! Arthur on trial for his life! And Adelaide was not even murdered!”

“No?” gasped the nurse, intent on every word this long-silenced witness let fall.

“Had he no friend? Was there not some one to understand? Adelaide —” here her head fell till her face was lost to sight —“had — a — lover —”

“Yes. Mr. Elwood Ranelagh. He was the first to be arrested for the crime.”

The soul in Carmel seemed to vanish at this word. The eyes, which had been so far-seeing the moment before, grew blank, and the lithe young body stiff with that death in life which is almost worse to look upon than death itself. She did not speak; but presently she arose, as an automaton might arise at the touch of some invisible spring, and so stood, staring, until the nurse, frightened at the result of her words and the complete overthrow which might follow them, sprang for a newspaper and thrust it into her patient’s unwilling hand.

Was it too late? For a minute it seemed to be so; then the stony eyes softened and fell, the rigidity of her frame relaxed, and Carmel sank back again on the sofa and tried to read the headlines on the open sheet before her. But her eyes were unequal to the task. With a sob she dropped the paper and entreated the nurse to relate to her from her own knowledge, all that had passed, sparing her nothing that would make the situation perfectly clear to one who had been asleep during the worst crisis of her life.

Miss Unwin complied, but with reservations. She told of Adelaide having been found dead at The Whispering Pines by the police, whom she had evidently summoned during a moment of struggle or fear; of Ranelagh’s presence there, and of the suspicions to which it gave rise; of his denial of the crime; of his strange reticence on certain points, which served to keep him incarcerated till a New York detective got to work and found so much evidence against her brother that Mr. Ranelagh was subsequently released and Arthur Cumberland indicted. But she said nothing about the marks on Adelaide’s throat, or of the special reason which the police had for arresting Mr. Ranelagh. She did not dare. Strangulation was a horrible death to contemplate; and if this factor in the crime — she was not deceived by Carmel’s exclamation that there had been no murder — was unknown as yet to her patient, as it must be from what she had said, and the absolute impossibility, as she thought, of her having known what went on in The Whispering Pines, then it had better remain unknown to her until circumstances forced it on her knowledge, or she had gotten sufficient strength to bear it.

Carmel received the account well. She started when she heard of the discovery of Ranelagh in the club-house on the entrance of the police, and seemed disposed to ask some questions. But though the nurse gave her an opportunity to do so, she appeared to hunt in vain for the necessary words, and the narrative proceeded without further interruption. When all was done, she sat quite still; then carefully, and with a show of more judgment than might be expected from one of her years, she propounded certain inquiries which brought out the main causes for her brother’s arraignment. When she had these fully in mind, she looked up into the nurse’s face again and repeated, quite calmly, but with immovable decision, the order of an hour before:

“We must return at once. You will pack up immediately.”

Miss Unwin nodded, and began to open the trunks.

This, however, was a ruse. She did not intend to take her patient back that night. She was afraid to risk it. The next day would be soon enough. But she would calm her by making ready, and when the proper moment came, would find some complication of trains which would interfere with their immediate departure.

Meanwhile, she would communicate at the earliest moment with Mr. Fox. She had been in the habit of sending him frequent telegrams as to her patient’s condition. They had been invariable so far: “No difference; mind still a blank,” or some code word significant of the same. But a new word was necessary now. She must look it up, and formulate her telegram before she did anything else.

The code-book was in her top tray. She hunted and hunted for it, without being able to lay her hands on it. She grew very nervous. She was only human; she was in a very trying position, and she realised it. Where could that book be? Suddenly she espied it and, falling on her knees before the trunk, with her back still to Carmel, studied out the words she wanted. She was leaning over the tray to write these words in her note-book, when — no one ever knew how it happened — the lid of the heavy trunk fell forward and its iron edge struck her on the nape of the neck, with a keen blow which laid her senseless. When Carmel reached her side, she found herself the strong one and her stalwart nurse the patient.

When help had been summoned, the accident explained, and everything done for the unconscious woman which medical skill could suggest, Carmel, finding a moment to herself, stole to the trunk, and, lifting up the lid, looked in. She had been watchful of her nurse from the first, and was suspicious of the actions which had led to this untoward accident. Seeing the two little books, she took them out. The note-book lay open and on the page thus disclosed, she beheld written:

Ap Lox Fidestum Truhum

Ridiculous nonsense — until she consulted the code. Then these detached and meaningless words took on a significance which she could not afford to ignore:

Ap A change.
Lox Makes remarkable statements.
Fidestum Shall we return?
Trubum Not tractable.

Carmel endeavoured to find out for whom this telegram was intended. There was nothing to inform her. A moment of indecision was followed by quick action. She had noticed that she had been invariably addressed as Miss Campbell by every one who had come into the room. Whether this was a proof of the care with which she had been guarded from the curiosity of strangers, or whether it was part of a system of deception springing from quite different causes, she felt that in the present emergency it was a fact to be thankful for and to be utilised.

Regaining her own room, which was on the other side of their common sitting-room, she collected a few necessary articles, and placed them in a bag which she thrust under her bed. Hunting for money, she found quite an adequate amount in her own purse, which was attached to her person. Satisfied thus far, she chose her most inconspicuous hat and coat, and putting them on, went out by her own door into the corridor.

The time — it was the dinner-hour — favoured her attempt. She found her way to the office unobserved, and, going frankly up to the clerk, informed him that she had some telegrams to send and that she would be out for some little time. Would he see that Miss Huckins was not neglected in her absence?

The clerk, startled at these evidences of sense and self-reliance in one he had been accustomed to see under the special protection of the very woman she was now confiding to his care, surveyed her eloquent features beaming with quiet resolve, and for a moment seemed at a loss how to take this change and control the strange situation. Perhaps she understood him, perhaps she only followed the impulses natural to her sex. She never knew; she only remembers that she smiled, and that his hesitation vanished at that smile.

“I will see to it,” said he. Then, as she turned to go, he ventured to add, “It is quite dark now. If you would like one of the boys to go with you —”. But he received no encouragement, and allowed his suggestion to remain unfinished.

She looked grateful for this, and was pulling down her veil when she perceived two or three men on the other side of the room, watching her in evident wonder. Stepping back to the desk, she addressed the clerk again, this time with a marked distinctness:

“I have been very ill, I know, and not always quite myself. But the shock of this accident to my nurse has cleared my brain and made me capable again of attending to my own affairs. You can trust me; I can do my errands all right; but perhaps I had better have one of the boys go with me.”

The clerk, greatly relieved, rang his bell, and the gentlemen at the other end of the room sauntered elsewhere to exchange their impressions of an incident which was remarkable enough in itself, without the accentuation put upon it by the extreme beauty of the girl and the one conspicuous blemish to that beauty — her unfortunate scar. With what additional wonder would they have regarded the occurrence, had they known that the object of their interest was not an unknown Miss Campbell, but the much pitied, much talked-of Carmel Cumberland, sister of the man then on trial for his life in a New York town.

With her first step into the street, Carmel’s freshly freed mind began its work. She knew she was in a place called Lakewood, but she knew little of its location, save that it was somewhere in New Jersey. Another strange thing! she did not recognise the streets. They were new to her. She did not remember ever having been in them before.

“Where is the railroad station?” she inquired of the boy who was trotting along at her side.

“Over there,” he answered, vaguely.

“Take me to it.”

He obeyed, and they threaded several streets whose lighted shops pleased her, notwithstanding her cares; such a joy it was to be alive to things once more, and capable of remembrance, even though remembrance brought visions at which she shuddered, and turned away, appalled.

The sight of the station, from which a train was just leaving, frightened her for a moment with its bustle and many lights; but she rallied under the stress of her purpose, and, entering, found the telegraph office, from which she sent this message, directed to her physician, at home, Dr. Carpenter:

“Look for me on early train. All is clear to me now, and I must return. Preserve silence till we meet.”

This she signed with a pet name, known only to themselves, and dating back to her childish days.

Then she bought a ticket, and studied the time-table. When quite satisfied, she returned to the hotel. She was met in the doorway by the physician who was attending the so-called Miss Huckins. He paused when he saw her, and asked a few questions which she was penetrating enough to perceive were more for the purpose of testing her own condition than to express interest in his patient. She answered quietly, and was met by a surprise and curiosity which evinced that he was greatly drawn towards her case. This alarmed her. She did not wish to be the object of any one’s notice. On the contrary, she desired to obliterate herself; to be counted out so far as all these people were concerned. But above all, she was anxious not to rouse suspicion. So she stopped and talked as naturally as she could about Miss Huckins’s accident and what the prospects were for the night. These were favourable, or so the doctor declared, but the injured woman’s condition called for great care and he would send over a capable nurse at-once. Meanwhile, the maid who was with her would do very well. She, herself, need have no worry. He would advise against worry, and suggested that she should have a good and nourishing dinner sent to her room, after which she should immediately retire and get what sleep she could by means of an anodyne he would send her.

Carmel exerted herself.

“You are very good,” said she, “I need no anodyne. I am tired and when I once get to bed shall certainly sleep. I shall give orders not to be disturbed. Isn’t that right?”

“Quite right. I will myself tell the nurse.”

He was going, but turned to look at her again.

“Shall I accompany you to the door of your room?” he asked.

She shook her head, with a smile. This delay was a torment to her, but it must be endured.

“I am quite capable of finding my room. I hope Miss Huckins will be as well in a week from now as I am at this moment. But, doctor —” she had been struck by a strange possibility —“I should like to settle one little matter before we part. The money I have may not be quite safe in my hands. My memory might leave me again, and then Miss Huckins might suffer. If you will take charge of some of it on her account, I shall feel relieved.”

“It would be a wise precaution,” he admitted. “But you could just as well leave it at the desk.”

“So I can,” she smiled. Then, as his eye remained fixed on her: “You are wondering if I have friends. We both have and I have just come from telegraphing to one of them. You can leave us, with an easy mind. All that I dread is that Miss Huckins will worry about me if her consciousness should return during the night.”

“It will not return so soon. Next week we may look for it. Then you can be by to reassure her if she asks for you.”

Carmers eyes fell.

“I would not be a cause of distress to her for the world. She has been very good to me.” Bowing, she turned in the direction of the office.

The doctor, lifting his hat, took his departure. The interview might have lasted five minutes. She felt as though it had lasted an hour.

She followed the doctor’s advice and left half the money she had, in charge of the clerk. Then she went upstairs. She was not seen to come down again; but when the eight-forty-five train started out of the station that night, it had for a passenger, a young, heavily veiled girl, who went straight to her section. A balcony running by her window had favoured her escape. It led to a hall window at the head of a side staircase. She met no one on the staircase, and, once out of the door at its foot, her difficulties were over, and her escape effected.

She was missed the next morning, and an account of her erratic flight reached the papers, and was published far and wide. But the name of Miss Caroline Campbell conveyed nothing to the public, and the great trial went on without a soul suspecting the significance of this midnight flitting of an unknown and partially demented girl.

At the house of Dr. Carpenter she met Mr. Moffat. What she told him heartened him greatly for the struggle he saw before him. Indeed, it altered the whole tone of the defence. Perceiving from her story, and from what the doctor could tell him of their meeting at the station that her return to town was as yet a secret to every one but themselves, he begged that the secret should continue to be kept, in order that the coup d’etat which he meditated might lose none of its force by anticipation. Carmel, whose mind was full of her coming ordeal, was willing enough to hide her head until it came; while Dr. Carpenter, alarmed at all this excitement, would have insisted on it in any event.

Carmel wished her brother informed of her return, but the wily lawyer persuaded her to excuse him from taking Arthur into his confidence until the last moment. He knew that he would receive only opposition from his young and stubborn client; that Carmel’s presence and Carmel’s determination would have to be sprung upon Arthur even more than upon the prosecution; that the prisoner at the bar would struggle to the very last against Carmel’s appearance in court, and make an infinite lot of trouble, if he did not actually endanger his own cause. One of the stipulations which he had made in securing Mr. Moffat for his counsel was that Carmel’s name was to be kept as much as possible out of the proceedings; and to this Mr. Moffat had subscribed, notwithstanding his conviction that the crime laid to the defendant’s charge was a result of Ranelagh’s passion for Carmel, and, consequently, distinctly the work of Ranelagh’s own hand.

He had thought that he could win his case by the powers of oratory and a somewhat free use of innuendo; but his view changed under the fresh enlightenment which he received in his conversation with Carmel. He saw unfolding before him a defence of unparalleled interest. True, it involved this interesting witness in a way that would be unpleasant to the brother; but he was not the man to sacrifice a client to any sentimental scruple — certainly not this client, whose worth he was just beginning to realise. Professional pride, as well as an inherent love of justice, led him to this conclusion. Nothing in God’s world appealed to him, or ever had appealed to him, like a prisoner in the dock facing a fate from which only legal address, added to an orator’s eloquence, could save him. His sympathies went out to a man so placed, even when he was a brute and his guilt far from doubtful. How much more, then, must he feel the claims of this surly but chivalrous-hearted boy, son of a good father and pious mother, who had been made the butt of circumstances, and of whose innocence he was hourly becoming more and more convinced.

Could he have probed the whole matter, examined and re-examined this new witness until every detail was his and the whole story of that night stood bare before him, he might have hesitated a little longer and asked himself some very serious questions. But Carmel was not strong enough for much talk. Dr. Carpenter would not allow it, and the continued clearness of her mind was too invaluable to his case for this far-seeing advocate to take any risk. She had told him enough to assure him that circumstances and not guilt had put Arthur where he was, and had added to the assurance, details of an unexpected nature — so unexpected, indeed, that the lawyer was led away by the prospect they offered of confounding the prosecution by a line of defence to which no clew had been given by anything that had appeared.

He planned then and there a dramatic climax which should take the breath away from his opponent, and change the whole feeling of the court towards the prisoner. It was a glorious prospect, and if the girl remained well — the bare possibility of her not doing so, drove him prematurely from her presence; and so it happened that, for the second time, the subject of Adelaide’s death was discussed in her hearing without any mention being made of strangulation as its immediate cause. Would her action have been different had she known that this was a conceded fact?

Mr. Moffat did not repeat this visit. He was not willing to risk his secret by being seen too often at the doctor’s house; but telephonic communication was kept up between him and her present guardian, and he was able to bear himself quietly and with confidence until the time drew near for the introduction of her testimony. Then he grew nervous, fearing that Nurse Unwin would come to herself and telegraph Carmel’s escape, and so prepare the prosecution for his great stroke. But nothing of the kind happened; and, when the great day came, he had only to consider how he should prepare Arthur for the surprise awaiting him, and finally decided not to prepare him at all, but simply to state at the proper moment, and in the face of the whole court-room, that his sister had recovered and would soon take her place upon the stand. The restraint of the place would thus act as a guard between them, and Carmel’s immediate entrance put an end to the reproaches of whose bitterness he could well judge from his former experience of them.

With all these anxieties and his deeply planned coup d’etat awaiting the moment of action, Ella’s simple outburst and even Ranelagh’s unexpected and somewhat startling suggestion lost much of their significance. All his mind and heart were on his next move. It was to be made with the queen, and must threaten checkmate. Yet he did not forget the two pawns, silent in their places — but guarding certain squares which the queen, for all her royal prerogatives, might not be able to reach.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/green/anna_katharine/house_of_the_whispering_pines/chapter28.html

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