The House of the Whispering Pines
Anna Katharine Green
Part 4 out of 7
"Perhaps I had better wait till to-morrow before I satisfy your
curiosity," said he.
"And leave me to imagine all sorts of horrors? No! Tell me at once.
Is--is--has anything happened at the Cumberlands'?"
"Yes. What you feared has happened--No, no; Carmel is not dead. Did you
think I meant that? Forgive me. I should have remembered that you had
other causes for anxiety than the one weighing on our minds. She is
holding her own--just holding it--but that is something, in one so young
and naturally healthy."
I could see that I baffled him. It could not be helped. I did not dare to
utter the question with which my whole soul was full. I could only look
my entreaty. He misunderstood it, as was natural enough.
"She does not know yet what is in store for her," were his words;
and I could only lie still, and look at him helplessly, and try not
to show the despair that was sinking me deeper and deeper into
semi-unconsciousness. "When she comes to herself, she will have to be
told; but you will be on your feet, then, and will be allowed, no doubt,
to soften the blow for her by your comfort and counsel. The fact that
it must have been you, if not he--"
"_He!"_ Did I shout it, or was the shout simply in my own mind? I
trembled as I rose on my elbow. I searched his face in terror of my
self-betrayal; but his showed only compassion and an eager desire to
clear the air between us by telling me the exact facts.
"Yes--Arthur. His guilt has not been proven; he has not even been
remanded; the sister's case is too pitiful and Coroner Perry too
soft-hearted, where any of that family is involved. But no one doubts his
guilt, and he does not deny it himself. You know--probably no one
better--that he cannot very consistently do this, in face of the evidence
accumulated against him, evidence stronger in many regards, than that
accumulated against yourself. The ungrateful boy! The--the--Pardon me, I
don't often indulge in invectives against unhappy men who have their
punishment before them, but I was thinking of you and what you have
suffered in this jail, where you have not belonged--no, not for a day."
"Don't think of me." The words came with a gasp. I was never so hard put
to it--not when I first realised that I had been seen with my fingers on
Adelaide's throat. Arthur! A booby and a boor, but certainly not the
slayer of his sister, unless I had been woefully mistaken in all that had
taken place in that club-house previous to my entrance into it on that
fatal night. As I caught Clifton's eye fixed upon me, I repeated--though
with more self-control, I hope: "Don't think of me. I'm not thinking of
myself. You speak of evidence. What evidence? Give me details. Don't you
see that I am burning with curiosity? I shan't be myself till I hear."
This alarmed him.
"It's a risk," said he. "The doctor told me to be careful not to excite
you too much. But suspense is always more intolerable than certainty, and
you have heard too much to be left in ignorance of the rest."
"Yes, yes," I agreed feverishly, pressing his hand.
"It all came about through you," he blundered on. "You told me of the
fellow you saw riding away from The Whispering Pines at the time you
entered the grounds. I passed the story on to the coroner, and he to a
New York detective they have put on this case. He and Arthur's own surly
nature did the rest."
I cringed where I lay. This was my work. The person who drove out of the
club-house grounds while I stood in the club-house hall was Carmel--and
the clew I had given, instead of baffling and confusing them, had led
directly to Arthur!
Seeing nothing peculiar--or at all events, giving no evidence of having
noted anything peculiar in my movement--Clifton went evenly on, pouring
into my astonished ears the whole long story of this detective's
I heard of his visit at the mechanic's cottage and of the identification
of the hat marked by Eliza Simmons's floury thumb, with an old one of
Arthur's, fished out from one of the Cumberland closets; then, as I lay
dumb, in my secret dismay and perturbation, of Arthur's acknowledged
visit to the club-house, and his abstraction of the bottles, which to all
minds save my own, perhaps, connected him directly and well-nigh
unmistakably, with the crime.
"The finger of God! Nothing else. Such coincidences cannot be natural,"
was my thought. And I braced myself to meet the further disclosures I saw
But when these disclosures were made, and Arthur's conduct at the
funeral was given its natural explanation by the finding of the
tell-tale ring in Adelaide's casket, I was so affected, both by the
extraordinary nature of the facts and the doubtful position in which
they seemed to place one whom, even now, I found it difficult to believe
guilty of Adelaide's death, that Clifton, aroused, in spite of his own
excitement, to a sudden realisation of my condition, bounded to his feet
and impetuously cried out:
"I had to tell you. It was your due and you would not have been satisfied
if I had not. But I fear that I rushed my narrative too suddenly upon
you; that you needed more preparation, and that the greatest kindness I
can show you now, is to leave before I do further mischief."
I believe I answered. I know that his idea of leaving was insupportable
to me. That I wanted him to stay until I had had time to think and adjust
myself to these new conditions. Instinctively, I did not feel as certain
of Arthur's guilt as he did. My own case had taught me the insufficiency
of circumstantial evidence to settle a mooted fact. Besides, I knew
Arthur even better than I did his sisters. He was as full of faults, and
as lacking in amiable and reliable traits as any fellow of my
acquaintance. But he had not the inherent snap which makes for crime. He
lacked the vigour which,--God forgive me the thought!--lay back of
Carmers softer characteristics. I could not imagine him guilty; I could,
for all my love, imagine his sister so, and did. The conviction would not
leave my mind.
"Charles," said I, at last, struggling for calmness, and succeeding
better in my task than either he or I expected; "what motive do they
assign for this deed? Why should Arthur follow Adelaide to the club-house
and kill her? Now, if he had followed me--"
"You were at dinner with them that night, and know what she did and what
she vowed about the wine. He was very angry. Though he dropped his glass,
and let it shiver on the board, he himself says that he was desperately
put out with her, and could only drown his mad emotions in drink. He knew
that she would hear of it if he went to any saloon in town; so he stole
the key from your bunch, and went to help himself out of the club-house
wine-vault. That's how he came to be there. What followed, who knows? He
won't tell, and we can only conjecture. The ring, which she certainly
wore that night, might give the secret away; but it is not gifted with
speech, though as a silent witness it is exceedingly eloquent."
The episode of the ring confused me. I could make nothing out of it,
could not connect it with what I myself knew of the confused experiences
of that night. But I could recall the dinner and the sullen aspect, not
unmixed with awe, with which this boy contemplated his sister when his
own glass fell from his nerveless fingers. My own heart was not in the
business; it was on the elopement I had planned; but I could not help
seeing what I have just mentioned, and it recurred to me now with fatal
distinctness. The awe was as great as the sullenness. Did that offer a
good foundation for crime? I disliked Arthur. I had no use for the boy,
and I wished with all my heart to detect guilt in his actions, rather
than in those of the woman I loved; but I could not forget that tinge of
awe on features too heavy to mirror very readily the nicer feelings of
the human soul. It would come up, and, under the influence of this
impression I said:
"Are you sure that he made no denial of this crime? That does not seem
like Arthur, guilty or innocent."
"He made none in my presence and I was in the coroner's office when
the ring was produced from its secret hiding-place and set down before
him. There was no open accusation made, but he must have understood
the silence of all present. He acknowledged some days ago, when
confronted with the bottle found in Cuthbert Road, that he had taken
both it and another from the club-house just before the storm began to
rage that night."
"The hour, the very hour!" I muttered.
"He entered and left by that upper hall window, or so he says; but he is
not to be believed in all his statements. Some of his declarations we
know to be false."
"Which ones? Give me a specimen, Charlie. Mention something he has said
that you know to be false."
"Well, it is hard to accuse a man of a direct lie. But he cannot be
telling the truth when he says that he crossed the links immediately to
Cuthbert Road, thus cutting out the ride home, of which we have such
Under the fear of betraying my thoughts, I hurriedly closed my eyes. I
was in an extraordinary position, myself. What seemed falsehood to them,
struck me as the absolute truth. Carmel had been the one to go home; he,
without doubt, had crossed the links, as he said. As this conviction
penetrated deeply and yet more deeply into my mind, I shrank
inexpressibly from the renewed mental struggle into which it plunged me.
To have suffered, myself,--to have fallen under the ban of suspicion and
the disgrace of arrest--had certainly been hard; but it was nothing to
beholding another in the same plight through my own rash and ill-advised
attempt to better my position and Carmel's by what I had considered a
totally harmless subterfuge.
I shuddered as I anticipated the sleepless hours of silent debate which
lay before me. The voice which whispered that Arthur Cumberland was not
over-gifted with sensitiveness and would not feel the shame of his
position like another, did not carry with it an indisputable message, and
could not impose on my conscience for more than a passing moment. The
lout was human; and I could not stifle my convictions in his favour.
I clenched my hands under the clothes. I wished it were not high noon,
but dark night; that Clifton would only arise or turn his eyes away; that
something or anything might happen to give me an instant of solitary
contemplation, without the threatening possibility of beholding my
thoughts and feelings reflected in another's mind.
Was this review instantaneous, or the work of many minutes? Forced by
the doubt to open my eyes, I met Clifton's full look turned watchfully on
me. The result was calming; even to my apprehensive gaze it betrayed no
new enlightenment. My struggle had been all within; no token of it had
This he showed still more plainly when he spoke.
"There will be a close sifting of evidence at the inquest. You will not
enjoy this; but the situation, hard as it may prove, has certainly
improved so far as you are concerned. That should hasten your
"Poor Arthur!" burst from my lips, and the cry was echoed in my heart.
Then, because I could no longer endure the pusillanimity which kept me
silent, I rose impulsively into a sitting posture, and, summoning all my
faculties into full play, endeavoured to put my finger on the one weak
point in the evidence thus raised against Carmel's brother.
"What sort of a man would you make Arthur out to be, when you accuse him
of robbing the wine-vault on top of a murderous assault on his sister?"
"I know. It argues a brute, but he--"
"Arthur Cumberland is selfish, unresponsive, and hard, but he is not a
brute. I'm disposed to give him the benefit of my good opinion to this
extent, Charlie; I cannot believe he first poisoned and then choked that
Clifton drew himself up in his turn, astonishment battling with
"Either he or you, Ranelagh!" he exclaimed, firmly. "There is no third
person. This you must realise."
One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
So fast they follow.
Later, I asked myself many questions, and wandered into mazes of
speculation which only puzzled me and led nowhere. I remembered the
bottles; I remembered the ring. I went back, in fancy, to the hour of my
own entrance into the club-house, and, recalling each circumstance,
endeavoured to fit the facts of Arthur's story with those of my own
Was he in the building when I first stepped into it? It was just
possible. I had been led to prevaricate as to the moment I entered the
lower gateway, and he may have done the same as to the hour he left by
the upper hall window. Whatever his denials on this or any subject, I was
convinced that he knew, as well as I, that Carmel had been in the
building with her sister, and was involved more or less personally in the
crime committed there. Might it not be simply as his accessory after the
fact? If only I could believe this! If my knowledge of him and of her
would allow me to hug this forlorn hope, and behold, in this shock to her
brain, and in her look and attitude on leaving the club-house, only a
sister's horror at a wilful brother's crime!
But one fact stood in the way of this--a fact which nothing but some
predetermined, underhanded purpose on her part could explain. She had
gone in disguise to The Whispering Pines, and she had returned home in
the same suspicious fashion. The wearing of her brother's hat and coat
over her own womanly garments was no freak. There had been purpose in
it--a purpose which demanded secrecy. That Adelaide should have
accompanied her under these circumstances was a mystery. But then the
whole affair was a mystery, totally out of keeping, in all its details,
with the characters of these women, save--and what a fearful exception I
here make--the awful end, which, alas! bespoke the fiery rush and impulse
to destroy which marked Carmel's unbridled rages.
Of a less emotional attack she would be as incapable as any other good
woman. Poison she would never use. Its presence there was due to
another's forethought, another's determination. But the poison had not
killed. Both glasses had been emptied, but--Ah! those glasses. What
explanation had the police, now, for those two emptied glasses? They had
hitherto supposed me to be the second person who had joined Adelaide in
this totally uncharacteristic drinking.
To whom did they now attribute this act? To Arthur, the brother whose
love for liquor in every form she had always decried, and had publicly
rebuked only a few hours before? Knowing nothing of Carmel having been on
the scene, they must ascribe this act either to him or to me; and when
they came to dwell upon this point more particularly--when they came to
study the exact character of the relations which had always subsisted
between Adelaide and her brother--they must see the improbability of her
drinking with him under any circumstances. Then their thoughts would
recur to me, and I should find myself again a suspect. The monstrous
suggestion that Arthur had brought the liquor there himself, had poured
it out and forced her to drink it, poison and all, out of revenge for her
action at the dinner-table a short time before, did not occur to me then,
but if it had, there were the three glasses--he would not bring _three_;
nor would Adelaide; nor, as I saw it, would Carmel.
Chaos! However one looked at it, chaos! Only one fact was clear--that
Carmel knew the whole story and might communicate the same, if ever her
brain cleared and she could be brought to reveal the mysteries of that
hour. Did I desire such a consummation? Only God, who penetrates more
deeply than ourselves into the hidden regions of the human heart, could
tell. I only know that the fear and expectation of such an outcome made
my anguish for the next two weeks.
Would she live? Would she die? The question was on every tongue. The
crisis of her disease was approaching, and the next twenty-four hours
would decide her fate, and in consequence, my own, if not her brother
Arthur's. As I contemplated the suspense of these twenty-four hours, I
revolted madly for the first time against the restrictions of my prison.
I wanted air, movement, the rush into danger, which my horse or my
automobile might afford. Anything which would drag my thoughts from that
sick room, and the anticipated stir of that lovely form into conscious
life and suffering. Her eyes--I could see her eyes wakening upon the
world again, after her long wandering in the unknown and unimaginable
intricacies of ungoverned thought and delirious suggestion. Eyes of
violet colour and infinite expression; eyes which would make a man's joy
if they smiled on him in innocence; but which, as I well knew, had burned
more than once, in her short but strenuous life, with fiery passions; and
might, at the instant of waking, betray this same unholy gleam under the
curious gaze of the unsympathetic ones set in watch over her.
What would her first word be? Whither would her first thought fly? To
Adelaide or to me; to Arthur or to her own frightened and appalled self?
I maddened as I dwelt upon the possibilities of this moment. I envied
Arthur; I envied the attendants; I envied even the servants in the house.
They would all know sooner than I. Carmel! Carmel!
Sending for Clifton, I begged him to keep himself in communication with
the house, or with the authorities. He promised to do what he could;
then, perceiving the state I was in, he related all he knew of present
conditions. No one was allowed in the sick room but the nurse and the
doctor. Even Arthur was denied admission, and was wearing himself out in
his own room as I was wearing myself out here, in restless inactivity. He
expected her to sink and never to recover consciousness, and was loud in
his expressions of rebellion against the men who dared to keep him from
her bedside when her life was trembling in the balance. But the nurse had
hopes and so had the doctor. As for Carmel's looks, they were greatly
changed, but beautiful still in spite of the cruel scar left by her fall
against the burning bars of her sister's grate. No delirium disturbed the
rigid immobility in which she now lay. I could await her awakening with
quiet confidence in the justice of God.
Thus Clifton, in his ignorance.
The day was a bleak one, dispiriting in itself even to those who could go
about the streets and lose themselves in their tasks and round of duties.
To me it was a dead blank, marked by such interruptions as necessarily
took place under the prison routine. The evening hours which followed
them were no better. The hands on my watch crawled. When the door finally
opened, it came as a shock. I seemed to be prepared for anything but the
termination of my suspense. I knew that it was Clifton who entered, but I
could not meet his eye. I dug my nails into my palms, and waited for his
first word. When it came, I felt my spirits go down, down--I had thought
them at their lowest ebb before. He hesitated, and I started up:
"Tell me," I cried. "Carmel is dead!"
"Not dead," said he, "but silly. Her testimony is no more to be relied
upon than that of any other wandering mind."
"BREAK IN THE GLASS!"
This inundation of mistempered humour
Rests by you only to be qualified.
It was some time before I learned the particulars of this awakening.
It had occurred at sunset. A level beam of light had shot across the
bed, and the nurse had moved to close the blind, when a low exclamation
from the doctor drew her back, to mark the first faint fluttering of the
snowy lids over the long-closed eyes. Afterwards she remembered what a
picture her youthful patient made, with the hue of renewed life creeping
into her cheeks, in faint reflection of the nest of roseate colour in
which she lay.
Carmel's hair was dark; so were her exquisitely pencilled eye-brows, and
the long lashes which curled upward from her cheek. In her surroundings
of pink--warm pink, such as lives in the heart of the sea-shell--their
duskiness took on an added beauty; and nothing, not even the long, dark
scar running from eye to chin could rob the face of its individuality and
suggestion of charm. She was lovely; but it was the loveliness of line
and tint, just as a child is lovely. Soul and mind were still asleep, but
momentarily rousing, as all thought, to conscious being--and, if to
conscious being, then to conscious suffering as well.
It was a solemn moment. If the man who loved her had been present--or
even her brother, who, sullen as he was, must have felt the tie of close
relationship rise superior even to his fears at an instant so
critical,--it would have been more solemn yet. But with the exception of
the doctor and possibly the nurse, only those interested in her as a
witness in the most perplexing case on the police annals, were grouped
in silent watchfulness about the room, waiting for the word or look
which might cut the Gordian knot which none of them, as yet, had been
able to untangle.
It came suddenly, as all great changes come. One moment her lids were
down, her face calm, her whole figure quiet in its statue-like repose;
the next, her big violet eyes had flashed open upon the world, and lips
and limbs were moving feebly, but certainly, in their suddenly recovered
freedom. It was then--and not at a later moment when consciousness had
fully regained its seat--that her face, to those who stood nearest wore
the aspect of an angel's. What she saw, or what vision remained to her
from the mysterious world of which she had so long been a part, none ever
knew--nor could she, perhaps, have told. But the rapture which informed
her features and elevated her whole expression but poorly prepared them
for the change which followed her first glance around on nurse and
doctor. The beam which lay across the bed had been no brighter than her
eye during that first tremulous instant of renewed life. But the clouds
fell speedily and very human feelings peered from between those lids as
she murmured, half petulantly:
"Why do you look at me so? Oh, I remember, I remember!"
And a flush, of which they little thought her weakened heart capable,
spread over her features, hiding the scar and shaming her white lips.
"What's the matter?" she complained again, as she tried to raise her
hands, possibly to hide her face. "I cannot move as I used to do, and I
"You have been ill," came soothingly from the doctor. "You have been in
bed many days; now you are better and will soon be well. This is your
nurse." He said nothing of the others, who were so placed behind screens
as to be invisible to her.
She continued to gaze, first at one, then at the other; confidently at
the doctor, doubtfully at the nurse. As she did so, the flush faded and
gave way to an anxious, troubled expression. Not just the expression
anticipated by those who believed that, with returning consciousness,
would come returning memory of the mysterious scene which had taken place
between herself and sister, or between her sister and her brother, prior
to Adelaide's departure for The Whispering Pines. Had they shared my
knowledge--had they even so much as dreamed that their patient had been
the companion of one or both of the others in this tragic escapade--how
much greater would have been their wonder at the character of this
"You have the same kind look for me as always," were her next words, as
her glance finally settled on the doctor. "But hers--Bring me the
mirror," she cried. "Let me see with my own eyes what I have now to
expect from every one who looks at me. I want to know before Lila comes
in. Why isn't she here? Is she with--with--" She was breaking down, but
caught herself back with surprising courage, and almost smiled, I was
told. Then in the shrill tones which will not be denied, she demanded
again, "The mirror!"
Nurse Unwin brought it. Her patient evidently remembered the fall she had
had in her sister's room, and possibly the smart to her cheek when it
touched the hot iron.
"I see only my forehead," she complained, as the nurse held the mirror
before her. "Move it a little. Lower--lower," she commanded. Then
She was still for a long time, during which the nurse carried off
"I--I don't like it," she acknowledged quaintly to the doctor, as he
leaned over her with compassionate words. "I shall have to get
acquainted with myself all over again. And so I have been ill! I
shouldn't have thought a little burn like that would make me ill. How
Adelaide must have worried."
"Adelaide is--is not well herself. It distressed her to have been out
when you fell. Don't you remember that she went out that night?"
"Did she? She was right. Adelaide must have every pleasure. She had
earned her good times. I must be the one to stay home now, and look after
things, and learn to be useful. I don't expect anything different. Call
Adelaide, and let me tell her how--how satisfied I am."
"But she's ill. She cannot come. Wait till tomorrow, dear child. Rest is
what you need now. Take these few drops and go to sleep again, and you'll
not know yourself to-morrow."
"I don't know myself now," she repeated, glancing with slowly dilating
eyes at the medicine glass he proffered. "I can't take it," she
protested. "I forget now why, but I can't take anything more from a
glass. I've promised not to, I think. Take it away; it makes me feel
queer. Where is Adelaide?"
Her memory was defective. She could not seem to take in what the doctor
told her. But he tried her again. Once more he spoke of illness as the
cause of Adelaide's absence. Her attention wandered while he spoke of it.
"How it did hurt!" she cried. "But I didn't think much about it. I
thought only of--" Next moment her voice rose in a shriek, thin but
impetuous, and imbued with a note of excited feeling which made every
person there start. "There should be _two_," she cried. "_Two_! Why is
there only one?"
This sounded like raving. The doctor's face took on a look of concern,
and the nurse stirred uneasily.
"One is not enough! That is why Adelaide is not satisfied; why she does
not come and love and comfort me, as I expected her to. Tell her it is
not too late yet, not too late yet, not too late--"
The doctor's hand was on her forehead. This "not too late," whatever she
meant by it, was indescribably painful to the listeners, oppressed as
they were by the knowledge that Adelaide lay in her grave, and that all
fancies, all hopes, all meditated actions between these two were now, so
far as this world goes, forever at an end.
"Rest," came in Dr. Carpenter's most soothing tones. "Rest, my little
Carmel; forget everything and rest." He thought he knew the significance
of her revolt from the glass he had offered her. She remembered the scene
at the Cumberland dinner-table on that fatal night and shrank from
anything that reminded her of it. Ordering the medicine put in a cup, he
offered it to her again, and she drank it without question. As she
quieted under its influence, the disappointed listeners, now tip-toeing
carefully from the room, heard her murmur in final appeal:
"Cannot Adelaide spare one minute from--from her company downstairs, to
wish me health and kiss me good night?"
Was it weakness, or a settled inability to remember anything but that
which filled her own mind?
It proved to be a settled inability to take in any new ideas or even to
remember much beyond the completion of that dinner. As the days passed
and news of her condition came to me from time to time, I found that she
had not only forgotten what had passed between herself and the rest of
the family previous to their departure for the club-house, but all that
had afterwards occurred at The Whispering Pines, even to her own
presence there and the ride home. She could not even retain in her mind
for any appreciable length of time the idea of Adelaide's death. Even
after Dr. Carpenter, with infinite precautions, revealed to her the
truth--not that Adelaide had been murdered, but that Adelaide had passed
away during the period of her own illness, Carmel gave but one cry of
grief, then immediately burst forth in her old complaint that Adelaide
neglected her. She had lost her happiness and hope, and Adelaide would
not spare her an hour.
This expression, when I heard of it, convinced me, as I believe it did
some others, that her act of self-denial in not humouring my whim and
flying from home and duty that night, had made a stronger impression on
her mind than all that came after.
She never asked for Arthur. This may have grieved him; but, according to
my faithful friend and attorney, it appeared to have the contrary effect,
and to bring him positive relief. When it was borne in on him, as it was
soon to be borne in on all, that her mind was not what it was, and that
the beautiful Carmel had lost something besides her physical perfection
in the awful calamity which had made shipwreck of the whole family, he
grew noticeably more cheerful and less suspicious in his manner. Was it
because the impending inquiry must go on without her, and proceedings,
which had halted till now, be pushed with all possible speed to a finish?
So those who watched him interpreted his changed mood, with a result not
favourable to him.
With this new shock of Carmel's inability to explain her own part in
this tragedy and thus release my testimony and make me a man again in my
own eyes, I lost the sustaining power which had previously held me up. I
became apathetic; no longer counting the hours, and thankful when they
passed. Arthur had not been arrested; but he understood--or allowed
others to see that he understood, the reason for the surveillance under
which he was now strictly kept; and, though he showed less patience than
myself under the shameful suspicion which this betokened, he did not
break out into open conflict with the authorities, nor did he protest
his innocence, or take any other stand than the one he had assumed from
All this gave me much food for thought, but I declined to think. I had
made up my mind from the moment I realised Carmel's condition, that there
was nothing for me to do till after the inquest. The public investigation
which this would involve, would show the trend of popular opinion, and
thus enlighten me as to my duty. Meanwhile, I would keep to the old lines
and do the best I could for myself without revealing the fact of Carmel's
near interest in a matter she was in no better condition to discuss now
than when in a state of complete unconsciousness.
Of that inquest, which was held in due course, I shall not say much. Only
one new fact was elicited by its means, and that of interest solely as
making clear how there came to be evidences of poison in Adelaide's
stomach, without the quantity being great enough for more than a
Maggie, the second girl, had something to say about this when the phial
which had held the poison was handed about for inspection. She had
handled that phial many times on the shelf where it was kept. Once she
had dropped it, and the cork coming out, some of the contents had
escaped. Frightened at the mishap, she had filled the phial up with
water, and put it, thus diluted, back on the shelf. No one had noticed
the difference, and she had forgotten all about the matter until now.
From her description, there must have been very little of the dangerous
drug left in the phial; and the conclusions of Dr. Perry's autopsy
received a confirmation which ended, after a mass of testimony tending
rather to confuse than enlighten, the jury, in the non-committal verdict:
Death by strangulation at the hands of some person unknown.
I had expected this. The evidence, pointing as it did in two opposing
directions, presented a problem which a coroner's jury could hardly be
expected to solve. What followed, showed that not only they but the
police authorities as well, acknowledged the dilemma. I was allowed one
sweet half hour of freedom, then I was detained to await the action of
the grand jury, and so was Arthur.
When I was informed of this latter fact, I made a solemn vow to myself.
It was this: If it falls to my lot to be indicted for this murderous
offence, I will continue to keep my own counsel, as I have already done,
in face of lesser provocation and at less dangerous risk. But, if I
escape and a true bill should be found against Arthur, then will I follow
my better instinct, and reveal what I have hitherto kept concealed, even
if the torment of the betrayal drive me to self-destruction afterwards.
For I no longer cherished the smallest doubt, that to Carmel's sudden
rage and to that alone, the death of Adelaide was due.
My reason for this change from troubled to absolute conviction can be
easily explained. It dated from the inquest, and will best appear in the
relation of an interview I held with my attorney, Charles Clifton, very
soon after my second incarceration.
We had discussed the situation till there seemed to be nothing left to
discuss. I understood him, and he thought he understood me. He believed
Arthur guilty, and credited me with the same convictions. Thus only could
he explain my inconceivable reticence on certain points he was very well
assured I could make clear if I would. That he was not the only man who
had drawn these same conclusions from my attitude both before and during
the inquest, troubled me greatly and deeply disturbed my conscience, but
I could indulge in no protests--or, rather would indulge in no
protests--as yet. There was an unsolved doubt connected with some facts
which had come out at the inquest--or perhaps, I should call it a
circumstance not as yet fully explained--which disturbed me more than did
my conscience, and upon this circumstance I must have light before I let
my counsel leave me.
I introduced the topic thus:
"You remember the detached sentences taken down by the nurse during the
period of Carmel's unconsciousness. They were regarded as senseless
ravings, and such they doubtless were; but there was one of them which
attracted my attention, and of which I should like an explanation. I wish
I had that woman's little book here; I should like to read for myself
those wandering utterances."
"You can," was the unexpected and welcome reply. "I took them all down in
shorthand as they fell from Dr. Perry's lips. I have not had time since
to transcribe them, but I can read some of them to you, if you will give
me an idea as to which ones you want."
"Read the first--what she said on the day of the funeral. I do not think
the rest matter very much."
Clifton took a paper from his pocket, and, after only a short delay, read
out these words:
"_December the fifth_: Her sister's name, uttered many times and with
greatly varied expression--now in reproach, now in terror, now in what
seemed to me in tones of wild pleading and even despair. This continued
at intervals all through the day.
"At three P.M., just as people were gathering for the funeral, the quick,
glad cry: 'I smell flowers, sweet, sweet flowers!'"
Alas! she did.
"At three-forty P.M., as the services neared their close, a violent
change took place in her appearance, and she uttered in shrill tones
those astonishing words which horrified all below and made us feel that
she had a clairvoyant knowledge of the closing of the casket, then
"'Break it open! Break it open! and see if her heart is there!'"
"Pause there," I said; "that is what I mean. It was not the only time she
uttered that cry. If you will glance further down, you will come across a
second exclamation of the like character."
"Yes; here it is. It was while the ubiquitous Sweetwater was mousing
about the room."
"Read the very words he heard. I have a reason, Clifton. Humour me for
"Certainly--no trouble. She cried, this time: 'Break it open! Break the
glass and look in. Her heart should be there--her heart--her heart!"
Horrible! but you insisted, Ranelagh."
"I thought I heard that word glass," I muttered, more to myself than to
him. Then, with a choking fear of giving away my thought, but unable to
resist the opportunity of settling my own fears, I asked: "Was there
glass in the casket lid?"
"No; there never is."
"But she may have thought there was," I suggested hastily. "I'm much
obliged to you, Clifton. I had to hear those sentences again. Morbidness,
no doubt; the experience of the last three weeks would affect a
stronger-minded man than myself." Then before he could reply: "What do
you think the nurse meant by a violent change in her patient?"
"Why, she roused up, I suppose--moved, or made some wild or
"That is what I should like to know. I may seem foolish and unnecessarily
exacting about trifles; but I would give a great deal to learn precisely
where she looked, and what she did at the moment she uttered those wild
words. Is the detective Sweetwater still in town?"
"I believe so. Came up for the inquest but goes back to-night."
"See him, Clifton. Ask him to relate this scene. He was present, you
know. Get him to talk about it. You can, and without rousing his
suspicion, keen as they all say he is. And when he talks, listen and
remember what he says. But don't ask questions. Do this for me, Clifton.
Some day I may be able to explain my request, but not now."
"I'm at your service," he replied; but he looked hurt at being thus set
to work in the dark, and I dared say nothing to ease the situation. I did
not dare even to prolong the conversation on this subject, or on any
other subject. In consequence, he departed speedily, and I spent the
afternoon wondering whether he would return before the day ended, or
leave me to the endurance of a night of suspense. I was spared this final
distress. He came in again towards evening, and this was what he told me:
"I have seen Sweetwater, and was more fortunate in my interview than I
expected. He talked freely, and in the course of the conversation,
described the very occurrence in which you are so interested. Carmel had
been lying quietly previous to this outbreak, but suddenly started into
feverish life and, raising herself up in her bed, pointed straight before
her and uttered the words we have so often repeated. That's all there was
to it, and I don't see for my part, what you have gained by a repetition
of the same, or why you lay so much stress upon her gesture. What she
said was the thing, though even that is immaterial from a legal point of
view--which is the only view of any importance to you or to me, at this
"You're a true friend to me," I answered, "and never more so than in this
instance. Forgive me that I cannot show my appreciation of your goodness,
or thank you properly for your performance of an uncongenial task. I am
sunk deep in trouble. I'm not myself and cannot be till I know what
action will be taken by the grand jury."
If he replied, I have no remembrance of it; neither do I recall his
leave-taking. But I was presently aware that I was alone and could think
out my hideous thought, undisturbed.
Carmel had pointed straight before her, shouting out: "Break in
I knew her room; I had been taken in there once by Adelaide, as a
sequence to a long conversation about Carmel, shortly after her first
return from school. Adelaide wished to show me the cabinet in the wall,
the cabinet at which Carmel undoubtedly pointed, if her bed stood as it
had stood then. It was not quite full, at that time. It did not contain
Adelaide's heart among the other broken toys which Carmel had destroyed
with her own hand or foot, in her moments of frenzied passion--the
canary, that would not pick from her hand, the hat she hated, the bowl
which held only bread and milk when she wanted meat or cake. Adelaide
had kept them all, locked behind glass and in full view of the child's
eyes night and day, that the shame of those past destructive moments
might guard her from their repetition and help her to understand her
temper and herself. I had always thought it cruel of Adelaide, one of
the evidences of the flint-like streak which ran through her otherwise
generous and upright nature. But its awful prophecy was what affected me
most now; for destruction had fallen on something more tender than aught
that cabinet held.
Adelaide's heart! And Carmel acknowledged it--acknowledged that it
should be there, with what else she had trampled upon and crushed in her
white heat of rage. I could not doubt her guilt, after this. Whatever
peace her forgetfulness had brought--whatever innocent longing after
Adelaide--the wild cry of those first few hours, ere yet the impressions
of her awful experience had succumbed to disease, revealed her secret and
showed the workings of her conscience. It had not been understood; it had
passed as an awesome episode. But for me, since hearing of it, she stood
evermore convicted out of her own mouth--that lovely mouth which angels
might kiss in her hours of joyous serenity; but from whose caress friends
would fly, when the passion reigned in her heart and she must break,
crush, kill, or go mad.
AT TEN INSTEAD OF TWELVE
Forget the world around you. Meantime friendship
Shall keep strict vigils for you, anxious, active,
Only be manageable when that friendship
Points you the road to full accomplishment.
"I don't care a rush what you do to me. If you are so besotted by your
prejudices that you refuse to see the nose before your face; if you don't
believe your own officer who swore he saw Ranelagh's hands upon my
sister's throat, then this world is all a jumble and it makes very little
difference to me whether I'm alive or dead."
When these words of Arthur Cumberland were repeated to me, I echoed them
in my inmost soul. I, too, cared very little whether I lived or died.
The grand jury reeled off its cases and finally took up ours. To the last
I hoped--sincerely I think--that I should be the man to suffer
indictment. But I hoped in vain. A true bill was brought against Arthur,
and his trial was set for the eighteenth of January.
The first use I made of my liberty was to visit Adelaide's grave. In
that sacred place I could best review my past and gather strength for
the future. The future! Was it under my control? Did Arthur's fate hang
upon my word? I believed so. But had I strength to speak that word? I
had expected to; I had seen my duty clearly enough before the sitting of
the grand jury. But now that Arthur was indicted--now that it was an
accepted fact that he would have to stand trial instead of myself, I was
conscious of such a recoil from my contemplated action that I lost all
confidence in myself and my stoical adherence to what I considered the
claims of justice.
Standing in the cemetery grounds with my eyes upon the snow-covered mound
beneath which lay the doubly injured Adelaide, I had it out with myself,
for good and all.
I trusted Arthur; I distrusted Carmel. But she had claims to
consideration, which he lacked. She was a woman. Her fall would mean
infinitely more to her than any disgrace to him. Even he had seemed to
recognise this. Miserable and half-hearted as his life had been, he had
shown himself man enough not to implicate his young sister in the crime
laid to his charge. What then was I that I should presume to disregard
his lead in the difficult maze in which we were both lost. Yet, because
of the self-restraint he manifested, he had my sympathy and when I left
the cemetery and took my mournful way back into town, it was with the
secret resolution to stand his friend if I saw the case really going
against him. Till then, I would consider the helpless girl, tongue-tied
by her condition, and injured enough already by my misplaced love and its
The only change I now allowed myself was an occasional midnight stroll up
Huested Street. This was as near as I dared approach Carmel's windows. I
feared some watchful police spy. Perhaps I feared my own
Mr. Fulton's house and extensive grounds lay between this street and the
dismal walls beyond the huge sycamore which lifted itself like a beacon
above the Cumberland estate. But I allowed myself the doubtful pleasure
of traversing this course, and this course only, and if I obtained one
glimpse through bush and tree of the spot whither all my thoughts ran
continuously, I went home satisfied.
This was before Carmel left with her nurse for Lakewood. After that
event, I turned my head no more, in taking my midnight stroll. I was not
told the day or hour of her departure. Happily, perhaps, for us both, for
I could never have kept away from the station. I should have risked
everything for one glimpse of her face, if only to satisfy my own
judgment as to whether she would ever recognise me again, or remember
what had occurred on that doleful night when the light of her intellect
set in the darkness of sin and trouble.
The police had the same idea, I think, for I heard later that she was
deliberately driven past The Whispering Pines, though the other road was
more direct and less free, if anything, from possible spectators. They
thought, no doubt, that a sight of the place might reawaken whatever
memories remained of the last desperate scene preceding her brother and
sister's departure for this out-of-the-way spot. They little knew how
cruel was the test, or what a storm of realisation might have overwhelmed
her mind as her eye fell on those accursed walls, peering from their
bower of snow-laden, pines. But I did, and I never rested till I learned
how she had borne herself in her slow drive by the two guarded gateways:
merrily, it seems, and with no sign of the remembrances I feared. The
test, if it were meant for such, availed them nothing; no more, indeed,
than an encounter with her on the road, or at the station would have
availed me. For the veil she begged for had shrouded her features
completely, and it was only from her manner that those who accompanied
her, perceived her light-heartedness and delight in this change.
One sentence, and one only, reached my ears of all she said before she
disappeared from town.
"If Adelaide were only going, too! But I suppose I shall meet her and
Mr. Ranelagh somewhere before my return. She must be very happy. But not
so peaceful as I am. She will see that when we meet. I can hardly wait
for the day."
Words which set me thinking; but which I was bound to acknowledge could
be only the idle maunderings of a diseased mind from which all
impressions had fled, save those of innocence and futile hope.
One incident more before I enter upon the serious business of the trial.
I had no purpose in what I did. I merely followed the impulse of the
moment, as I had so often done before in my selfish and thoughtless life,
when I started one night for my walk at ten o'clock instead of twelve. I
went the old way; and the old longing recurring at the one charmed spot
on the road, I cast a quick look at the towering sycamore and the
desolated house beneath, which, short as it was, roused feelings which
kept my head lowered for the remainder of my walk north and to the very
moment, when, on my return, the same chimneys and overhanging roofs came
again into view through the wintry branches. Then habit lifted my head,
and I paused to look again, when the low sound of a human voice,
suppressed into a moan or sob, caused me to glance about for the woman or
child who had uttered this note of sorrow. No one was in sight; but as I
started to move on, I heard my name uttered in choked tones from behind
the hedge separating the Fulton grounds from the city sidewalk.
I halted instantly. A lamp from the opposite side of the street threw a
broad illumination across the walk where I stood, but the gate-posts
behind threw a shadow. Had the voice issued from this isolated point of
darkness? I went back to see. A pitiful figure was crouching there, a
frail, agitated little being, whom I had no sooner recognised than my
manner instantly assumed an air of friendly interest, called out by her
timid and appealing attitude.
"Ella Fulton!" I exclaimed. "You wish to speak to me?"
"Hush!" she prayed, with a frightened gesture towards the house. "No one
knows I am here. Mamma thinks me in bed, and papa, who is out, may come
home any minute. Oh, Mr. Ranelagh, I'm in such misery and no one but you
can give me any help. I have watched you go by night after night, and I
have wanted to call out and beg you to come in and see me, or let me go
and meet you somewhere, and I have not dared, it was so late. To-night
you have come earlier, and I have slipped out and--O, Elwood, you won't
think badly of me? It's all about Arthur, and I shall die if some one
does not help me and tell me how I can reach him with a message."
As she spoke the last words, she caught at the gatepost which was too
broad and ponderous to offer her any hold. Gravely I held out my arm,
which she took; we were old friends and felt no necessity of standing on
any sort of ceremony.
"You don't wish to bother," was her sensitive cry. "You had rather not
stop; rather not listen to my troubles."
Had I shown my feelings so plainly as that? I felt mortified. She was a
girl of puny physique and nervous manner--the last sort of person you
would expect Arthur Cumberland to admire or even to have patience with,
and the very last sort who could be expected to endure his rough ways, or
find anything congenial to herself in his dissipated and purposeless
life. But the freaks of youthful passion are endless, and it was evident
that they loved each other sincerely.
Her tremulous condition and meek complaint went to my heart,
notwithstanding my growing dread of any conversation between us on this
all-absorbing but equally peace-destroying topic. Reassuringly pressing
her hand, I was startled to find a small piece of paper clutched
convulsively within it.
"For Arthur," she explained under her breath. "I thought you might find
some way of getting it to him. Father and mother are so prejudiced. They
have never liked him, and now they believe the very worst. They would
lock me up if they knew I was speaking to you about him. Mother is very
stern and says that all this nonsense between Arthur and myself must
stop. That we must never--no matter whether he is cleared or--or--"
Silence, then a little gasp, after which she added with an emphasis which
bespoke the death of every hope: "She is very decided about it, Elwood."
I hardly blamed the mother.
"I--I love Arthur. I don't think him guilty and I would gladly stand by
him if they would let me. I want him to know this. I want him to get such
comfort as he can out of my belief and my desire to serve him. I want to
sacrifice myself. But I can't, I can't," she moaned. "You don't know how
mother frightens me. When she looks at me, the words falter on my tongue
and I feel as if it would be easier to die than to acknowledge what is in
I could believe her. Mrs. Fulton was a notable woman, whom many men
shrank from encountering needlessly. It was not her tongue, though that
could be bitter enough, but a certain way she had of infusing her
displeasure into attitude, tone, and manner, which insensibly sapped your
self-confidence and forced you to accept her bad opinion of you as your
rightful due. This, whether your judgment coincided with hers or not.
"Yet your mother is your very best friend," I ventured gently, with a
realisation of my responsibility which did not add much to my
She seemed startled.
"Not in this, not in this," she objected, with a renewal of her anxious
glances, this time up and down the street. "I must get a word to Arthur.
I saw that she had some deeper reason than appeared, for desiring
communication with him. I was debating how best to meet the situation and
set her right as to my ability to serve her, without breaking down her
spirit too seriously, when I felt her feverish hand pressing her little
note into my unwilling palm.
"Don't read it," she whispered, innocent of all offence and only anxious
to secure my good offices. "It's for Arthur. I've used the thinnest
paper, so that you can secrete it in something he will be sure to get.
Don't disappoint me. I was sorry for you, too, and glad when they let you
out. Both of you are old playmates of mine, but Arthur--"
I had to tell her; I had to dash her small hopes to the ground.
"Forgive me, Ella," I said, "but I cannot carry him this message or even
get it to him secretly. I am watched myself; I know it, though I have
never really detected the man doing it."
"Oh!" she ejaculated, terror-stricken at once. "Is there any one here,
behind these trees or in the street on the other side of the hedge-row?"
I hastened to reassure her.
"No, no. If I've been followed, it was not so near as that. I cannot do
what you ask for several reasons. Arthur will credit you with the best of
impulses without your incurring any such risk."
"Yes, yes, but that's not enough. What shall I do? What shall I do?"
I strove to help her.
"There is a man," said I, "who sees him constantly and may be induced to
assure Arthur of your belief and continued interest in him. That man is
his lawyer, Mr. Moffat. Any one will tell you how to reach him."
"No, no," she disclaimed, hurriedly, breathlessly. "My last hope was in
you. You wouldn't think the worse of me for--for what I've done; or let
mother know. I couldn't tell a stranger even if he went right to Arthur
with it. I'm not made that way. I couldn't stand the shame." Drawing back
a step she wrung her small hands together, exclaiming, "What an unhappy
girl I am!" Then stepping up to my side, she whispered in my ear: "There
is something I could say which might--"
I stopped her. Right or wrong, I stopped her. I hadn't the courage just
then to face the possibilities of what lay at the end of this simple
sentence. She possessed evidence, or thought she did, which might help to
clear Arthur. Evidence of what? Evidence which would implicate Carmel?
The very thought unnerved me.
"I had rather not be the recipient of this confidence if it is at all
important or at all in the line of testimony. Remember the man I
mentioned. He will be glad to hear of anything helpful to his client."
Her distress mounted to passion.
"It's--it's something that will destroy my mother's confidence in me. I
disobeyed her. I did what she would never have let me do if she had
known. I--I used to meet Arthur in the driveway back by the barns. I had
a key made to the little side door so that I could do it. I used to meet
him late. I would get up out of bed when mother was asleep, and dress
myself and sit at the window until I heard him come up the street. Then
I would steal down and catch him on his way to the stables. I--I had a
good reason for this, Elwood. He knew I would be there, and it brought
him home earlier and not quite so--so full of liquor. If he was very bad,
he would come up the other way and I would sit waiting and crying till
three o'clock struck, then creep into my bed and try to sleep. Nights and
nights I have done this. Nothing else in life seemed so important, for it
did hold him back a little. But not so much as if he had loved me more.
He loved me some, but he couldn't have loved me very much, or he would
have sent me some word, or seen me, if but for a minute, since Adelaide's
death. And he hasn't, he hasn't! and that makes it harder for me to
acknowledge the watch I kept on him, and how I know he never went through
our grounds for the second time that night. He went once, about nine, but
not later. I am certain of this, for I was looking out for him till three
in the morning. If he came back and then returned afterwards to town, it
was through his own street, and that takes so long, he would never have
been able to get to the place they said he did at the time they have
agreed upon. Oh! I have studied every word of the case, to see if what I
had to tell would help him any. Father cannot bear to see me with a
newspaper in my hand, and mother comes and takes them out of my room; but
I have managed to read every word since they accused him of being at the
club-house that night, and I know that he needs some one to come out
boldly in his cause, and I want to be that some one, and I will be, too,
whatever happens to me, if--if I must," she faintly added.
I was dumb, but not from lack of interest, God knows, or from
unsympathetic feeling for this brave-hearted girl. The significance of
the situation was what held me speechless. Here was help for Arthur
without my braving all the horrors of Carmel's downfall by any impulsive
act of my own. For a moment, hope in one burning and renewing flame
soared high in my breast. I was willing to accept my release in this way.
I was willing to shift the load from my own back to the delicate
shoulders of this shrinking but ardent girl. Then reason returned, if
consideration halted, and I asked myself: "But is the help she offers of
any practical worth? Would her timid declarations, trembling as she was
between her awe of her parents and her desire to serve the man she loved,
weigh in the balance against the evidence accumulated by the district
It seemed doubtful. She would not be believed, and I should have to back
up her statement with my own hitherto suppressed testimony. It was a hard
case, any way I looked at it. A woman to be sacrificed whichever course I
took. Contemplating the tremulous, half-fainting figure drooping in the
shadows before me, such native chivalry as remained to me, urged me to
spare this little friend of mine, so ungifted by nature, so innocent in
intention, so sensitive and so shrinking in temperament and habit. Then
Carmel's image rose before me, glorious, impassioned, driven by the
fierce onrush of some mighty inherent force into violent deeds undreamed
of by most women; but when thus undriven, gentle in manner, elevated in
thought, refined as only a few rare characters are refined; and my heart
stood still again with doubt, and I could not say: "It is your duty to
save him at all hazards. Brave your father, brave your mother, brave
public opinion and possibly the wrecking of your whole future, but tell
the truth, and rid your days of doubt, your nights of remorse." I could
not say this. So many things might happen to save Arthur, to save Carmel,
to save the little woman before me. I would trust that future, temporise
a bit and give such advice as would relieve us both from immediate fear
without compromising Arthur's undoubted rights to justice.
Meanwhile, Ella Fulton had become distracted by new fears. The sound of
sleigh-bells could be heard on the hill. It might be her father. Should
she try to reach the house, or hide her small body, like a trapped
animal's, on the dark side of the hedge? I was conscious of her thoughts,
shared her uncertainties, notwithstanding the struggle then going on in
my own mind. But I remained quiet and so did she, and the sleigh
ultimately flew past us up the road. The sigh which broke from her lips
as this terror subsided, brought my disordered thoughts to a focus. I
must not keep her longer. Something must be said at once. As soon as she
looked my way again, I spoke:
"Ella, this is no easy problem you have offered me. You are right in
thinking that this testimony of yours might be of benefit to Arthur, and
that you ought to give it in case of extremity. But I cannot advise you
to obtrude it yet. I understand what it would cost you, and the sacrifice
you would make is too great for the doubtful good which might follow.
Neither must you trust me to act for you in this matter. My own position
is too unstable for me to be of assistance to any one. I can sympathise
with you, possibly as no one else can; but I cannot reach Arthur, either
by word or by message. Your father is the man to appeal to in case
interference becomes necessary and you must speak. You have not quite the
same fear of him that you have of your mother. Take him into your
confidence--not now but later when things press and you must have a
friend. He's a just man. You may shock his fatherly susceptibilities, you
may even lose some of his regard, but he will do the right thing by you
and Arthur. Have confidence that this is so, and rest, little friend, in
the hope and help it gives you. Will you?"
"I will try. I could only tell father on my knees, but I will do it
if--if I must," she faltered out, unconsciously repeating her former
phrase. "Now, I must go. You have been good; only I asked too much." And
with no other farewell she left me and disappeared up the walk.
I lingered till I heard the faint click of her key in the door she had
secretly made her own; then I moved on. As I did so, I heard a rustle
somewhere about me on street or lawn. I never knew whence it came, but I
felt assured that neither her fears nor mine had been quite unfounded;
that a listener had been posted somewhere near us and that a part, if not
all, we had said had been overheard. I was furious for an instant, then
the soothing thought came that possibly Providence had ordained that the
Gordian knot should be cut in just this way.
But the event bore no ostensible fruit. The week ended, and the case of
the People _against_ Arthur Cumberland was moved for trial.
ALL THIS STOOD
It's fit this royal session do proceed;
And that, without delay, their arguments
Be now produc'd and heard
_King Henry VIII_.
There was difficulty, as you will conceive, in selecting an unprejudiced
jury. But this once having been accomplished, the case went quickly and
smoothly on under the able guidance of the prosecuting attorney.
I shall spare you the opening details, also much of the preliminary
testimony. Enough that at the close of the sixth day, the outlook was a
serious one for Arthur Cumberland. The prosecution appeared to be making
good its claims. The quiet and unexpectedly dignified way in which, at
the beginning, the defendant had faced the whole antagonistic
court-room, with the simple plea of "Not Guilty," was being slowly but
surely forgotten in the accumulated proofs of his discontented life
under his sister's dominating influence, his desire for independence and
a free use of the money held in trust for him by this sister under their
father's will, the quarrels which such a situation would naturally evoke
between characters cast in such different moulds and actuated by such
opposing tastes and principles, and the final culmination of the same at
the dinner-table when Adelaide forced him, as it were, to subscribe to
her prohibition of all further use of liquor in their house. Following
this evidence of motive, came the still more damaging one of
opportunity. He was shown to have been in the club-house at or near the
time of Adelaide's death. The matter of the bottles was gone into and
the event in Cuthbert Road. Then I was called to the stand, and my
testimony asked for.
I had prepared myself for the ordeal and faced it unflinchingly. That I
might keep intact the one point necessary to Carmel's safety, I met my
inquisitors, now as before, with the utmost candour in all other
respects. Indeed, in one particular I was even more exact in my details
than at any previous examination. Anxious to explain my agitated and
hesitating advance through the club-house, prior to my discovery of the
crime which had been committed there, I acknowledged what I had hitherto
concealed, that in my first entrance into the building, I had come upon a
man's derby hat and coat hanging in the lower hall, and when questioned
more minutely on the subject, allowed it to appear that it was owing to
the disappearance of these articles during my stay upstairs, that I had
been led into saying that some one had driven away from The Whispering
Pines before the coming of the police.
This, as you will see, was in open contradiction of my former statements
that I had _seen_ an unknown party, thus attired, driving away through
the upper gateway just as I entered by the lower. But it was a
contradiction which while noted by Mr. Moffat, failed to injure me with
the jury, and much less with the spectators. The impression had become so
firmly fixed in the public mind and in that of certain officials as well,
that my early hesitations and misstatements were owing to a brotherly
anxiety to distract attention from Arthur whose clothing they believed me
to have recognised in these articles I have mentioned--that I rather
gained than lost by what, under other circumstances would have seriously
damaged my testimony. That I should prevaricate even to my own detriment,
at a preliminary examination, only to tell the truth openly and like a
man when in court and under the sanctity of an oath was, in the popular
estimation, something to my credit; and Mr. Moffat, whose chief
recommendation as counsel lay in his quick appreciation of the exigencies
of the moment, did not press me too sharply on this point when he came to
But in other respects he drove me hard. An effort was made by him, first
of all, to discredit me as a witness. My lack of appreciation for
Adelaide and my secret but absorbing love for Carmel were inexorably
brought out: also the easy, happy-go-lucky tenor of my life, and my
dogged persistence in any course I thought consistent with my happiness.
My character was well known in this town of my birth, and it would have
been folly for me to attempt to gloss it over. I had not even the desire
to do so. If my sins exacted penance, I would pay it here and now and to
the full. Only Carmel should not suffer. I refused to admit that she had
given any evidences of returning my reckless passion. My tongue would not
speak the necessary words, and it was not made to. It was not her
character but mine which Mr. Moffat was endeavouring to assail.
But though I was thus shown up for what I was, in a manner most public
and undesirable, neither the rulings of the court, nor the attitude of
the jury betrayed any loss of confidence in me as a credible witness, and
seeing this, the wily lawyer shifted his ground and confined himself to
an endeavour to shake me on certain definite and important points. How
were the pillows heaped upon the couch? What ones at top, what ones at
bottom? Which did I remove first, and why did I remove any of them? What
had I expected to find? These questions answered, the still
more-to-be-dreaded ones followed of just how my betrothed looked at the
moment I uncovered her face. Were the marks very plain upon her throat?
How plain; and what did I mean by saying that I felt forced to lay my
thumbs upon them? Was that a natural thing to do? Where was the candle at
that moment? How many feet away? A candle does not give much light at
that distance, was I sure that I saw those marks immediately; that they
were dark enough and visible enough to draw my eyes from her face which
would naturally attract my gaze first? It was horrible, devilish, but I
won through, only to meet the still more disturbing question as to
whether I saw any other evidences of strangulation besides the marks. I
could only mention the appearance of the eyes; and when Mr. Moffat found
that he could not shake me on this point, he branched off into a less
harrowing topic and cross-examined me in regard to the ring. I had said
that it was on her hand when I bade good-bye to her in her own house, and
that it was not there when I came upon her dead. Had the fact made me
curious to examine her hand? No. Then I could not tell whether the finger
on which she wore it gave any evidence of this ring having been pulled
off with violence? No. I could not swear that in my opinion it was? I
The small flask of cordial and the three glasses, one clean and the
others showing signs of having been used, were next taken up, but with no
result for the defence. I had told all I knew about these in my direct
examination; also about such matters as the bottles found on the kitchen
table, the leaving of my keys at the Cumberland house, and the fact, well
known, that the two bottles of wine left in the wine-vault and tabulated
by the steward as so left in the list found in my apartments, were of an
exclusive brand unlikely to be found anywhere else in town. I could add
nothing more, and, having spoken the exact truth concerning them, from
the very first, I ran no chance of contradicting myself even under the
close fire of the opposing counsel.
But there was a matter I dreaded to see him approach, and, which, I was
equally sure, with an insight unshared I believe by any one else in the
whole courtroom, was equally dreaded by the prisoner.
This was the presence in the club-house chimney of the half-burned letter
I had long ago been compelled, in my own defence, to acknowledge having
written to the victim's young sister, Carmel Cumberland. As I saw
District Attorney Fox about to enter upon this topic, I gathered myself
together to meet the onslaught, for in this matter I could not be
strictly truthful, since the least slip on my part might awaken the whole
world to the fact that it could only have come there through the agency
of Carmel herself.
What Mr. Moffat thought of it--what he hoped to prove in the prisoner's
behalf by raking this subject over--it was left for me to discover
later. The prisoner was an innocent man, in his eyes. I was not; and,
while the time had not come for him to make this openly apparent, he was
not above showing even now that the case contained a factor which
weakened the prosecution--a factor totally dissociated with the openly
accepted theory that the crime was simply the result of personal
cupidity and drunken spite.
And in this he was right. It did weaken it--weakened it to the point of
collapse, if the counsel for the defence had fully acted up to his
opportunity. But something withheld him. Just at the moment when I feared
the truth must come out, he hesitated and veered gradually away from this
subject. In his nervous pacings to and fro before the witness stand, his
eye had rested for a moment on Arthur's, and with this result. The
situation was saved, but at a great loss to the defendant.
I began to cherish softened feelings towards Arthur Cumberland, from this
moment. Was it then, or later, that he began in his turn to cherish new
and less hostile feelings towards myself? He had hated me and vowed my
death if I escaped the fate he could now dimly see opening out before
himself; yet I could see that he was glad to see me slip from my
tormentor's hands with my story unimpeached, and that he drew his breath
more deeply and with much more evidence of freedom, now that my testimony
had been thoroughly sifted and nothing had come to light implicating
Carmel. I even thought I caught a kindly gleam in his eye as it met mine
at this critical juncture, and by its light I understood my man and what
he hoped from me. He wished me at any risk to himself, to unite with him
in saving Carmel's good name. That I should accede to this; that I should
respect his generous wishes and let him go to unmerited destruction for
even so imperative an obligation as we both lay under, was a question for
the morrow. I could not decide upon it to-day--not while the smallest
hope remained that he would yet escape conviction by other means than the
one which would wreck the life we were both intent on saving.
Several short examinations followed mine, all telling in their nature,
all calculated to fix in the minds of the jury the following facts:
(Pray pardon the repetition. It is necessary to present the case to you
just as it stood at this period of my greatest struggle.)
1.--That Arthur, swayed by cupidity and moved to rage by the scene at the
dinner-table, had, by some unknown means of a more or less violent
character, prevailed upon Adelaide to accompany him to The Whispering
Pines, in the small cutter, to which, in the absence of every servant
about the place, he himself had harnessed the grey mare.
2.--That in preparation for this visit to a spot remote from observation
and closed against all visitors, they, still for some unknown reason, had
carried between them a candlestick and candle, a flask of cordial, three
glasses, and a small bottle marked "Poison"; also some papers, letters,
or scraps of correspondence, among them the compromising line I had
written to Carmel.
3.--That, while in this building, at an hour not yet settled, a second
altercation had arisen between them, or some attempt been made by the
brother which had alarmed Adelaide and sent her flying to the telephone,
in great agitation, with an appeal to the police for help. This telephone
was in a front room and the jury was led to judge that she had gained
access to it while her companion ransacked the wine-vault and brought the
six bottles of spirit up from the cellar.
4.--That her outcry had alarmed the prisoner in his turn, causing him to
leave most of the bottles below, and hasten up to the room, where he
completed the deed with which he had previously threatened her.
5.--That poison having failed, he resorted to strangulation; after
which--or before--came the robbery of her ring, the piling up of the
cushions over the body in a vain endeavour to hide the deed, or to
prolong the search for the victim. Then the departure--the locking of the
front door behind the perpetrator; the flight of the grey horse and
cutter through the blinding storm; the blowing off of the driver's hat;
the identification of the same by means of the flour-mark left on its
brim by the mechanic's wife; the presence of a portion of one of the two
abstracted bottles in the stable where the horse was put up; and the
appearance of Arthur with the other bottle at the door of the inn in
Cuthbert Road, just as the clock was striking half-past eleven.
This latter fact might have been regarded as proving an alibi, owing to
the length of road between the Cumberland house and the place just
mentioned, if there had not been a short cut to town open to him by means
of a door in the wall separating the Cumberland and Fulton grounds--a
door which was found unlocked, and with the key in it, by Zadok Brown,
the coachman, when he came home about three next morning.
All this stood; not an item of this testimony could be shaken. Most of it
was true; some of it false; but what was false, so unassailable by any
ordinary means, that, as I have already said, the clouds seemed settling
heavily over Arthur Cumberland when, at the end of the sixth day, the
The night that followed was a heavy one for me. Then came the fateful
morrow, and, after that, the day of days destined to make a life-long
impression on all who attended this trial.
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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?"
"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?"
"Mr. Cumberland, you have heard mention made of a ring worn by your
sister in life, but missing from her finger after death?"
"You remember this ring?"
"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
"Was this ring on her finger that night at the dinner-table?"
"I cannot say, positively, but I believe so. I should have noticed
"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
"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:
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
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
"Does this mean that it was not in your possession at any time during
"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
"Was not this a most unusual thing to do?"
"Perhaps. I was not thinking about that. I had a duty to perform, and I
"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
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
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
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
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
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?"
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?"
"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
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