The House of the Whispering Pines, by Anna Katharine Green

xxxv

“As If it Were a Mecca”

— I have within my mind

A thousand raw tricks of these bragging Jacks

Which I will practise.

Merchant of Venice.

“Give me your reasons. They must be excellent ones, Sweetwater, or you would not risk making a second mistake in a case of this magnitude and publicity.”

“Mr. Fox, they are excellent. But you shall judge of them. From the moment Miss Carmel Cumberland overthrew the very foundations of our case by her remarkable testimony, I have felt that my work was only half done. It was a strain on credulity to believe Arthur guilty of a crime so prefaced, and the alternative which Mr. Moffat believed in, which you were beginning to believe in, and perhaps are allowing yourself to believe in even now, never appealed to me.

“I allude to the very natural suspicion that the act beheld by your man Clarke was a criminal act, and that Ranelagh is the man really responsible for Miss Cumberland’s death. Some instinct held me back from this conclusion, as well as the incontrovertible fact that he could have had no hand in carrying that piece of broken bottle into the Cumberland stable, or of dropping his engagement ring in the suggestive place where it was found. Where, then, should I look for the unknown, the unsuspected third party? Among the ten other persons who dropped something into that casket.

“Most of these were children, but I made the acquaintance of every one. I spent most of my Sunday that way; then, finding no clouded eye among them, I began a study of the Cumberland servants, naturally starting with Zadok. For two hours I sat at his stable fire, talking and turning him inside out, as only we detectives know how. I found him actually overwhelmed with grief; not the grief of a sane man, but of one in whom the very springs of life are poisoned by some dreadful remorse.

“He did not know he revealed this; he expressed himself as full of hope that his young master would be acquitted the next day; but I could see that this prospect could never still the worm working at his heart, and resolved to understand why. I left him ostensibly alone, but in reality shadowed him. The consequence was that, in the evening dusk, he led me to the cemetery, where he took up his watch at Miss Cumberland’s grave, as if it were a Mecca and he a passionate devotee. I could hear his groans as he hung to the fence and spoke softly to the dead; and though I was too far away to catch a single word, I felt confident that I had at last struck the right track, and should soon see my way more clearly than at any time since this baffling case opened.

“But before I allowed my fancy to run away with me, I put in an evening of inquiry. If this man had an absolute alibi, what was the use of wasting effort upon him. But I could not find that he had, Mr. Fox. He went with the rest of the servants to the ball — which, you know, was held in Tibbitt’s Hall, on Ford Street and he was seen there later, dancing and making merry in a way not usual to him. But there was a space of time dangerously tallying with that of the tragic scene at the club-house, when he was not seen by any one there, so far as I can make out; and this fact gave me courage to consider a certain point which had struck me, and of which I thought something might be made.

“Mr. Fox, after the fiasco I have made of this affair, it costs me something to go into petty details which must suggest my former failures and may not strike you with the force they did me. That broken bottle — or rather, that piece of broken bottle! Where was the rest of it? Sought for almost immediately after the tragedy, it had not been found at the Cumberland place or on the golf-links. It had been looked for carefully when the first thaw came; but, though glass was picked up, it was not the same glass. The task had become hopeless and ere long was abandoned.

“But with this idea of Zadok being the means of its transfer from The Whispering Pines to the house on the Hill, I felt the desire to look once more, and while court was in session this morning, I started a fresh search — this time not on the golf-links. Tibbitt’s Hall communicates more quickly with The Whispering Pines by the club-house road than by the market one. So I directed my attention to the ground in front, and on the further side of the driveways. And I found the neck of that bottle!

“Yes, sir, I will show it to you later. I picked it up at some distance from the northern driveway, under a small tree, against the trunk of which it had evidently been struck off. This meant that the lower part had been carried away, broken.

“Now, who would do this but Zadok, who saw in it, he has said, a receptacle for some varnish which he had; and if Zadok, how had he carried it, if not in some pocket of his greatcoat. But glass edges make quick work with pockets; and if this piece of bottle had gone from The Whispering Pines to Tibbitt’s Hall, and from there to the Hill, there should be some token of its work in Zadok’s overcoat pocket.

“This led me to look for those tokens; and as I had by this time insinuated my way into his confidence by a free and cheerful manner which gave him a rest from his gloomy thoughts, I soon had a chance to see for myself the condition of those pockets. The result was quite satisfactory. In one of them I found a frayed lining, easily explainable on the theory I had advanced. That pocket can be seen by you.

“But Mr. Fox, I wanted some real proof. I wasn’t willing to embarrass another man, or to risk my own reputation on a hazard so blind as this, without something really definite. A confession was what I wanted, or such a breakdown of the man as would warrant police action. How could I get this?

“I am a pupil of Mr. Gryce, and I remembered some of his methods.

“This man, guilty though he might be, loved this family, and was broken-hearted over the trouble in which he saw it plunged. Excused to-day from attendance at court, he was in constant telephonic communication with some friend of his, who kept him posted as to the conduct of the trial and the probabilities of a favourable verdict.

“If the case had gone against Arthur, we should have heard from his coachman — that I verily believe, but when we all saw that he was likely to be acquitted, I realised that some other course must be taken to shake Zadok from his new won complacency, and I chose the most obvious one.

“Just when everything looked most favourable to their restored peace and happiness, I shocked Miss Carmel and, through her, this Zadok, into the belief that the whole agony was to be gone over again, in the rearrest and consequent trial of the man she still loves, in spite of all that has happened to separate them.

“He was not proof against this new responsibility. As she fainted, he leaped from the box; and, could I have heard the words he muttered in her ear, I am sure that I should have that to give you which would settle this matter for all time. As it is, I can only say that my own convictions are absolute; the rest remains with you.”

“We will go see the man,” said District Attorney Fox.

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