The House of the Whispering Pines, by Anna Katharine Green

xxxii

And I had Said Nothing!

O my soul’s joy!

If after every tempest come such calms

May the winds blow till they have wakened death!

Othello.

I had always loved her; that I knew even in the hour of my darkest suspicion — but now I felt free to worship her. As the thought penetrated my whole being, it made the night gladsome. Whatever awaited her, whatever awaited Arthur, whatever awaited me, she had regenerated me. A change took place that night in my whole nature, in my aspect of life and my view of women. One fact rode triumphant above all other considerations and possible distresses. Fate — I was more inclined now to call it Providence — had shown me the heart of a great and true woman; and I was free to expend all my best impulses in honouring her and loving her, whether she ever looked my way again, received or even acknowledged a homage growing out of such wrong as I had done her and her unfortunate sister. It set a star in my firmament. It turned down all the ill-written and besmirched leaves in my book of life and opened up a new page on which her name, written in letters of gold, demanded clean work in the future and a record which should not shame the aura surrounding that pure name. Sorrow for the past, dread of the future — both were lost in the glad rebound of my distracted soul. The night was dedicated to joy, and to joy alone.

The next day being Sunday, I had ample time for the reaction bound to follow hours of such exaltation. I had no wish for company. I even denied myself to Clifton. The sight of a human face was more than I could bear unless it were the one face; and that I could not hope for. But the desire to see her, to hear from her — if only to learn how she had endured the bitter ordeal of the day before — soon became unbearable. I must know this much at any cost to her feelings or to mine.

After many a struggle with myself, I called up Dr. Carpenter on the telephone. From him I learned that she was physically prostrated, but still clear in mind and satisfied of her brother’s innocence. This latter statement might mean anything; but imparted by him to me, it seemed to be capable of but one interpretation. I must be prepared for whatever distrust of myself this confidence carried with it.

This was intolerable. I had to speak; I had to inquire if she had yet heard the real reason why I was the first to be arrested.

A decided “No,” cut short that agony. I could breathe again and proffer a humble request.

“Doctor, I cannot approach her; I cannot even write — it would seem too presumptuous. But tell her, as you find the opportunity, how I honour her. Do not let her remain under the impression that I am not capable of truly feeling what she has borne and must still bear.”

“I will do what I can,” was his reply, and he mercifully cut short the conversation.

This was the event of the morning.

In the afternoon I sat in my window thinking. My powers of reasoning had returned, and the insoluble problem of Adelaide’s murder occupied my whole mind. With Carmel innocent, who was there left to suspect? Not Arthur. His fingers were as guiltless as my own of those marks on her throat. Of this I was convinced, difficult as it made my future. My mind refused to see guilt in a man who could meet my eye with just the look he gave me on leaving the courtroom, at the conclusion of his sister’s triumphant examination. It was a momentary glance, but I read it, I am sure, quite truthfully.

“You are the man,” it said; but not in the old, bitter, and revengeful way voiced by his tongue before we came together in the one effort to save Carmel from what, in our short-sightedness and misunderstanding of her character, we had looked upon as the worst of humiliations and the most desperate of perils. There was sadness in his conviction and an honest man’s regret — which, if noted by those about us — was far more dangerous to my good name than the loudest of denunciations or the most acrimonious of assaults. It put me in the worst of positions. But one chance remained for me now.

The secret man of guilt might yet come to light; but how or through whose agency, I found myself unable to conceive. I had neither the wit nor the experience to untangle this confused web. Should I find the law in shape to deal with it? A few days would show. With the termination of Arthur’s trial, the story of my future would begin. Meanwhile, I must have patience and such strength as could be got from the present.

And so the afternoon passed.

With the coming on of night, my mood changed. I wanted air, movement. The closeness of my rooms had become unbearable. As soon as the lamps were lit in the street, I started out and I went — toward the cemetery.

I had no motive in choosing this direction for my walk. The road was an open one, and I should neither avoid people nor escape the chilly blast blowing directly in my face from the northeast. Whim, or shall I not say, true feeling, carried me there though I was quite conscious, all the time, of a strong desire to see Ella Fulton and learn from her the condition of affairs — whether she was at peace, or in utter disgrace, with her parents.

It was a cold night, as I have said, and there were but few people in the streets. On the boulevard I met nobody. As I neared the cemetery, I passed one man; otherwise I was, to all appearance, alone on this remote avenue. The effect was sinister, or my mood made it so; yet I did not hasten my steps; the hours till midnight had to be lived through in some way, and why not in this? No companion would have been welcome, and had the solitude been less perfect, I should have murmured at the prospect of intrusion.

The cemetery gates were shut. This I had expected, but I did not need to enter the grounds to have a view of Adelaide’s grave. The Cumberland lot occupied a knoll in close proximity to the fence, and my only intention had been to pass this spot and cast one look within, in memory of Adelaide. To reach the place, however, I had to turn a corner, and on doing so I saw good reason, as I thought, for not carrying out my intention at this especial time.

Some man — I could not recognise him from where I stood — had forestalled me. Though the night was a dark one, sufficient light shone from the scattered lamps on the opposite side of the way for me to discern his intent figure, crouching against the iron bars and gazing, with an intentness which made him entirely oblivious of my presence, at the very plot — and on the very grave — which had been the end of my own pilgrimage. So motionless he stood, and so motionless I myself became at this unexpected and significant sight, that I presently imagined I could hear his sighs in the dread quiet into which the whole scene had sunk.

Grief, deeper than mine, spoke in those labouring breaths. Adelaide was mourned by some one as I, for all my remorse, could never mourn her.

And I did not know the man.

Was not this strange enough to rouse my wonder?

I thought so, and was on the point of satisfying this wonder by a quick advance upon this stranger, when there happened an uncanny thing, which held me in check from sheer astonishment. I was so placed, in reference to one of the street lamps I have already mentioned, that my shadow fell before me plainly along the snow. This had not attracted my attention until, at the point of moving, I cast my eyes down and saw two shadows where only one should be.

As I had heard no one behind me, and had supposed myself entirely alone with the man absorbed in contemplation of Adelaide’s grave, I experienced a curious sensation which, without being fear, held me still for a moment, with my eyes on this second shadow. It did not move, any more than mine did. This was significant, and I turned.

A man stood at my back — not looking at me but at the fellow in front of us. A quiet “hush!” sounded in my ear, and again I stood still. But only for an instant.

The man at the fence — aroused by my movement, perhaps — had turned, and, seeing our two figures, started to fly in the opposite direction. Instinctively I darted forward in pursuit, but was soon passed by the man behind me. This caused me to slacken; for I had recognised this latter, as he flew by, as Sweetwater, the detective, and knew that he would do this work better than myself.

But I reckoned without my host. He went only as far as the spot where the man had been standing. When, in my astonishment, I advanced upon him there, he wheeled about quite naturally in my direction and, accosting me by name, remarked, in his genial off-hand manner:

“There is no need for us to tire our legs in a chase after that man. I know him well enough.”

“And who —” I began.

A quizzical smile answered me. The light was now in our faces, and I had a perfect view of his. Its expression quite disarmed me; but I knew, as well as if he had spoken, that I should receive no other reply to my half-formed question.

“Are you going back into town?” he asked, as I paused and looked down at the umbrella swinging in his hand. I was sure that he had not held this umbrella when he started by me on the run. “If so, will you allow me to walk beside you for a little way?”

I could not refuse him; besides, I was not sure that I wanted to. Homely as any man I had ever seen, there was a magnetic quality in his voice and manner that affected even one so fastidious as myself. I felt that I had rather talk to him, at that moment, than to any other person I knew. Of course, curiosity had something to do with it, and that community of interest which is the strongest bond that can link two people together.

“You are quite welcome,” said I; and again cast my eye at the umbrella.

“You are wondering where I got this,” he remarked, looking down at it in his turn. “I found it leaning against the fence. It gives me all the clue I need to our fleet-footed friend. Mr. Ranelagh, will you credit me with good intentions if I ask a question or two which you may or may not be willing to answer?”

“You may ask what you will,” said I. “I have nothing to conceal, since hearing Miss Cumberland’s explanation of her presence at The Whispering Pines.”

“Ah!”

The ejaculation was eloquent. So was the silence which followed it. Without good reason, perhaps, I felt the strain upon my heart loosen a little. Was it possible that I should find a friend in this man?

“The question I am going to ask,” he continued presently, “is one which you may consider unpardonable. Let me first express an opinion. You have not told all that you know of that evening’s doings.”

This called for no reply and I made none.

“I can understand your reticence, if your knowledge included the fact of Miss Cumberland’s heroic act and her sister’s manner of death at the club-house.”

“But it did not,” I asserted, with deliberate emphasis. “I knew nothing of either. My arrival happened later. Miss Cumberland’s testimony gave me my first enlightenment on these points. But I did know that the two sisters were there together, for I had a glimpse of the younger as she was leaving the house.”

“You had. And are willing to state it now?”

“Assuredly. But any testimony of that kind is for the defence, and your interests are all with the prosecution. Mr. Moffat is the man who should talk to me.”

“Does he know it?”

“Yes.”

“Who told him?”

“I did.”

“You?”

“Yes, it was my duty.”

“You are interested then in seeing young Cumberland freed?”

“I must be; he is innocent.”

The man at my side turned, shot at me one glance which I met quite calmly, then, regulating his step by mine, moved on silently for a moment — thinking, as it appeared to me, some very serious thoughts. It was not until we had traversed a whole block in this way that he finally put his question. Whether it was the one he had first had in mind, I cannot say.

“Mr. Ranelagh, will you tell me why, when you found yourself in such a dire extremity as to be arrested for this crime, on evidence as startling as to call for all and every possible testimony to your innocence, you preserved silence in regard to a fact which you must have then felt would have secured you a most invaluable witness? I can understand why Mr. Cumberland has been loth to speak of his younger sister’s presence in the club-house on that night; but his reason was not your reason. Yet you have been as hard to move on this point as he.”

Then it was I regretted my thoughtless promise to be candid with this man. To answer were impossible, yet silence has its confidences, too. In my dilemma, I turned towards him and just then we stepped within the glare of an electric light pouring from some open doorway. I caught his eye, and was astonished at the change which took place in him.

“Don’t answer,” he muttered, volubly. “It isn’t necessary. I understand the situation, now, and you shall never regret that you met Caleb Sweetwater on your walk this evening. Will you trust me, sir? A detective who loves his profession is no gabbler. Your secret is as safe with me as if you had buried it in the grave.”

And I had said nothing!

He started to go, then he stopped suddenly and observed, with one of his wise smiles:

“I once spent several minutes in Miss Carmel Cumberland’s room, and I saw a cabinet there which I found it very hard to understand. But its meaning came to me later. I could not rest till it did.”

At the next moment he was half way around a corner, and in another, out of sight.

This was the evening’s event.

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