The House of the Whispering Pines

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Authors: Anna Katherine Green
which
you have read in the papers and which I felt forced to give out, possibly
to my own shame and that of another whom I would fain have saved, is an
absolutely true one. I did not arrive at The Whispering Pines until
after Miss Cumberland was dead. To this I am ready to swear and it is
upon this fact you must rely, in any defence you may hereafter be called
upon to make in my regard."
    He listened as a lawyer would be apt to listen to such statements from
the man who had summoned him to his aid. But I saw that I had made no
impression on his convictions. He regarded me as a guilty man, and what
was more to the point no doubt, as one for whom no plea could be made or
any rational defence undertaken.
    "You don't believe me," I went on, still without any great bitterness. "I
am not surprised at it, after what the man Clarke has said of seeing me
with my hands on her throat. Any man, friend or not, would take me for a
villain after that. But, Charles, to you I will confess what cowardice
kept me from owning to Dr. Perry at the proper, possibly at the only
proper moment, that I did this out of a wild desire to see if those marks
were really the marks of strangling fingers. I could not believe that she
had been so killed and, led away by my doubts, I leaned over her and—You
shall believe me, you must," I insisted, as I perceived his hard gaze
remain unsoftened. "I don't ask it of the rest of the world. I hardly
expect any one to give me credit for good impulses or even for speaking
the plain truth after the discovery which has been made of my treacherous
attitude towards these two virtuous and devoted women. But you—if you
are to act as my counsel—must take this denial from me as gospel truth.
I may disappoint you in other ways. I may try you and often make you
regret that you undertook my case, but on this fact you may safely pin
your faith. She was dead before I touched her. Had the police spy whose
testimony is likely to hang me, climbed the tree a moment sooner than he
did, he would have seen that. Are you ready to take my case?"
    Clifton is a fair fellow and I knew if he once accepted the fact I thus
urged upon him, he would work for me with all the skill and ability my
desperate situation demanded. I, therefore, watched him with great
anxiety for the least change in the constrained attitude and fixed,
unpromising gaze with which he had listened to me, and was conscious of a
great leap of heart as the set expression of his features relaxed, and he
responded almost warmly:
    "I will take your case, Ranelagh. God help me to make it good against
all odds."
    I was conscious of few hopes, but some of the oppression under which I
laboured lifted at those words. I had assured one man of my innocence! It
was like a great rock in the weary desert. My sigh of relief bespoke my
feelings and I longed to take his hand, but the moment had not yet come.
Something was wanting to a perfect confidence between us, and I was in
too sensitive a frame of mind to risk the slightest rebuff.
    He was ready to speak before I was. "Then, you had not been long on the
scene of crime when the police arrived?"
    "I had been in the room but a few minutes. I do not know how long I was
searching the house."
    "The police say that fully twenty minutes elapsed between the time they
received Miss Cumberland's appeal for help and their arrival at the
club-house. If you were there that long—"
    "I cannot say. Moments are hours at such a crisis—I—"
    My emotions were too much for me, and I confusedly stopped. He was
surveying me with the old distrust. In a moment I saw why.
    "You are not open with me," he protested. "Why should moments be hours to
you previous to the instant when you stripped those pillows from the
couch? You are not a fanciful man, nor have you any cowardly instincts.
Why were you in such a turmoil going through a house where you could have
expected to find nothing worse than some miserable sneak thief?"
    This was a poser. I had laid myself

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