"I fear I shall not be believed, but that is the story of this crime, gentlemen."
Was it? Tragedies as unpremeditated as this had doubtless occurred, and inconsistencies in character shown themselves in similar impetuosities, from the beginning of time up till now. Yet there was not a man present, with or without the memory of Bartow's pantomime, which, as you will recall, did not tally at all with this account of Mr. Adams's violent end, who did not show in a greater or less degree his distrust and evident disbelief in this tale, poured out with such volubility before them.
The young man, gifted as he was with the keenest susceptibilities, perceived this, and his head drooped.
"I shall add nothing to and take nothing from what I have said," was his dogged remark. "Make of it what you will."
The inspector who was conducting the inquiry glanced dubiously at Mr. Gryce as these words left Thomas Adams's lips; whereupon the detective said:
"We are sorry you have taken such a resolution. There are many things yet left to be explained, Mr. Adams; for instance, why, if your brother slew himself in this unforeseen manner, you left the house so precipitately, without giving an alarm or even proclaiming your relationship to him?"
"You need not answer, you know," the inspector's voice broke in. "No man is called upon to incriminate himself in this free and independent country."
A smile, the saddest ever seen, wandered for a minute over the prisoner's pallid lips. Then he lifted his head and replied with a certain air of desperation:
"Incrimination is not what I fear now. From the way you all look at me I perceive that I am lost, for I have no means of proving my story."
This acknowledgment, which might pass for the despairing cry of an innocent man, made his interrogator stare.
"You forget," suggested that gentleman, "that you had your wife with you. She can corroborate your words, and will prove herself, no doubt, an invaluable witness in your favor."
"My wife!" he repeated, choking so that his words could be barely understood. "Must she be dragged into this—so sick, so weak a woman? It would kill her, sir. She loves me—she——"
"Was she with you in Mr. Adams's study? Did she see him lift the dagger against his own breast?"
"No." And with this denial the young man seemed to take new courage. "She had fainted several moments previously, while the altercation between my brother and myself was at its height. She did not see the final act, and—gentlemen, I might as well speak the truth (I have nothing to gain by silence), she finds it as difficult as you do to believe that Mr. Adams struck himself. I—I have tried with all my arts to impress the truth upon her, but oh, what can I hope from the world when the wife of my bosom—an angel, too, who loves me—oh, sirs, she can never be a witness for me; she is too conscientious, too true to her own convictions. I should lose—she would die——"
Mr. Gryce tried to stop him; he would not be stopped.
"Spare me, sirs! Spare my wife! Write me down guilty, anything you please, rather than force that young creature to speak——"
Here the inspector cut short these appeals which were rending every heart present. "Have you read the newspapers for the last few days?" he asked.
"I? Yes, yes, sir. How could I help it? Blood is blood; the man was my brother; I had left him dying—I was naturally anxious, naturally saw my own danger, and I read them, of course."
"Then you know he was found with a large cross on his breast, a cross which was once on the wall. How came it to be torn down? Who put it on his bosom?"
"I, sir. I am not a Catholic but Felix was, and seeing him dying without absolution, without extreme unction, I thought of the holy cross, and tore down the only one I saw, and placed it in his arms."
"A pious act. Did he recognize it?"
"I cannot say. I had my fainting wife to look after. She occupied all my thoughts."
"I see, and you carried her out and were so absorbed in caring for her you did not observe Mr. Adams's valet——"
"He's innocent, sir. Whatever people may think, he had nothing to do with this crime——"
"You did not observe him, I say, standing in the doorway and watching you?"
Now the inspector knew that Bartow had not been standing there, but at the loophole above; but the opportunity for entrapping the witness was too good to lose.
Mr. Adams was caught in the trap, or so one might judge from the beads of perspiration which at that moment showed themselves on his pale forehead. But he struggled to maintain the stand he had taken, crying hotly:
"But that man is crazy, and deaf-and-dumb besides! or so the papers give out. Surely his testimony is valueless. You would not confront me with him?"
"We confront you with no one. We only asked you a question. You did not observe the valet, then?"
"Or understand the mystery of the colored lights?"
"Or of the plate of steel and the other contrivances with which your brother enlivened his solitude?"
"I do not follow you, sir." But there was a change in his tone.
"I see," said the inspector, "that the complications which have disturbed us and made necessary this long delay in the collection of testimony have not entered into the crime as described by you. Now this is possible; but there is still a circumstance requiring explanation; a little circumstance, which is, nevertheless, one of importance, since your wife mentioned it to you as soon as she became conscious. I allude to the half dozen or more words which were written by your brother immediately preceding his death. The paper on which they were written has been found, and that it was a factor in your quarrel is evident, since she regretted that it had been left behind you, and he—Do you know where we found this paper?"
The eyes which young Adams raised at this interrogatory had no intelligence in them. The sight of this morsel of paper seemed to have deprived him in an instant of all the faculties with which he had been carrying on this unequal struggle. He shook his head, tried to reach out his hand, but failed to grasp the scrap of paper which the inspector held out. Then he burst into a loud cry:
"Enough! I cannot hold out, with no other support than a wicked lie. I killed my brother for reasons good as any man ever had for killing another. But I shall not impart them. I would rather be tried for murder and hanged."
It was a complete breakdown, pitiful from its contrast with the man's herculean physique and fine, if contracted, features. If the end, it was a sad end, and Mr. Gryce, whose forehead had taken on a deep line between the eyebrows, slowly rose and took his stand by the young man, who looked ready to fall. The inspector, on the contrary, did not move. He had begun a tattoo with his fingers on the table, and seemed bound to beat it out, when another sudden cry broke from the young man's lips:
"What is that?" he demanded, with his eyes fixed on the door, and his whole frame shaking violently.
"Nothing," began the inspector, when the door suddenly opened and the figure of a woman white as a wraith and wonderful with a sort of holy passion darted from the grasp of a man who sought to detain her, and stood before them, palpitating with a protest which for a moment she seemed powerless to utter.
It was Adams's young, invalid wife, whom he had left three hours before at Belleville. She was so frail of form, so exquisite of feature, that she would have seemed some unearthly visitant but for the human anguish which pervaded her look and soon found vent in this touching cry:
"What is he saying? Oh, I know well what he is saying. He is saying that he killed his brother, that he held the dagger which rid the world of a monster of whose wickedness none knew. But you must not heed him. Indeed you must not heed him. He is innocent; I, his wife, have come twenty miles, from a bed of weakness and suffering, to tell you so. He——"
But here a hand was laid gently, but firmly on her mouth. She looked up, met her husband's eyes filled with almost frantic appeal, and giving him a look in return that sank into the heart of every man who beheld it, laid her own hand on his and drew it softly away.
"It is too late, Tom, I must speak. My father, my own weakness, or your own peremptory commands could not keep me at Belleville when I knew you had been brought here. And shall I stop now, in the presence of these men who have heard your words and may believe them? No, that would be a cowardice unworthy of our love and the true lives we hope to lead together. Sirs!" and each man there held his breath to catch the words which came in faint and fainter intonation from her lips, "I know my husband to be innocent, because the hand that held the dagger was mine. I killed Felix Cadwalader!"
* * * * *
The horror of such a moment is never fully realized till afterward. Not a man there moved, not even her husband, yet on every cheek a slow pallor was forming, which testified to the effect of such words from lips made for smiles and showing in every curve the habit of gentle thought and the loftiest instincts. Not till some one cried out from the doorway, "Catch her! she is falling!" did any one stir or release the pent-up breath which awe and astonishment had hitherto held back on every lip. Then he in whose evident despair all could read the real cause of the great dread which had drawn him into a false confession, sprang forward, and with renewed life showing itself in every feature, caught her in his arms. As he staggered with her to a sofa and laid her softly down, he seemed another man in look and bearing; and Mr. Gryce, who had been watching the whole wonderful event with the strongest interest, understood at once the meaning of the change which had come over his prisoner at that point in his memorable arrest when he first realized that it was for himself they had come, and not for the really guilty person, the idolized object of his affections.
Meanwhile, he was facing them all, with one hand laid tenderly on that unconscious head.
"Do not think," he cried, "that because this young girl has steeped her hand in blood, she is a wicked woman. There is no purer heart on earth than hers, and none more worthy of the worship of a true man. See! she killed my brother, son of my father, beloved by my mother, yet I can kiss her hand, kiss her forehead, her eyes, her feet, not because I hate him, but because I worship her, the purest—the best——" He left her, and came and stood before those astonished men. "Sirs!" he cried, "I must ask you to listen to a strange, a terrible tale."
"It is like and unlike what I have just related to you," began young Adams. "In my previous confession I mixed truth and falsehood, and to explain myself fully and to help you to a right understanding of my wife's act, I shall have to start afresh and speak as if I had already told you nothing."
"Wait!" cried Mr. Gryce, in an authoritative manner. "We will listen to you presently;" and, leaning over the inspector, he whispered a few words, after which he took out a pencil and jotted down certain sentences, which he handed over to this gentleman.
As they had the appearance of a memorandum, and as the inspector glanced more than once at them while Mr. Adams (or Cadwalader, as he should now rightfully be called) was proceeding with his story, I will present them to you as written.
Points to be made clear by Mr. Adams in his account of this crime:
1. Why a woman who was calm enough to stop and arrange her hair during the beginning of an interview should be wrought up to such a pitch of frenzy and exasperation before it was over as to kill with her own hand a man against whom she had evidently no previous grudge. (Remember the comb found on the floor of Mr. Adams's bedroom.)
2. What was the meaning of the following words, written just previous to this interview by the man thus killed: "I return you your daughter. Neither you nor she shall ever see me again. Remember Evelyn!"
3. Why was the pronoun "I" used in this communication? What position did Mr. Felix Adams hold toward this young girl qualifying him to make use of such language after her marriage to his brother?
4. And having used it, why did he, upon being attacked by her, attempt to swallow the paper upon which he had written these words, actually dying with it clinched between his teeth?
5. If he was killed in anger and died as monsters do (her own word), why did his face show sorrow rather than hate, and a determination as far as possible removed from the rush of over-whelming emotions likely to follow the reception of a mortal blow from the hand of an unexpected antagonist?
6. Why, if he had strength to seize the above-mentioned paper and convey it to his lips, did he not use that strength in turning on a light calculated to bring him assistance, instead of leaving blazing the crimson glow which, according to the code of signals as now understood by us, means: "Nothing more required just now. Keep away."
7. What was the meaning of the huge steel plate found between the casings of the doorway, and why did it remain at rest within its socket at this, the culminating moment of his life?
8. An explanation of how old Poindexter came to appear on the scene so soon after the event. His words as overheard were: "It is Amos's son, not Amos!" Did he not know whom he was to meet in this house? Was the condition of the man lying before him with a cross on his bosom and a dagger in his heart less of a surprise to him than the personality of the victim?
9. Remember the conclusions we have drawn from Bartow's pantomime. Mr. Adams was killed by a left-handed thrust. Watch for an acknowledgment that the young woman is left-handed, and do not forget that an explanation is due why for so long a time she held her other arm stretched out behind her.
10. Why did the bird whose chief cry is "Remember Evelyn!" sometimes vary it with "Poor Eva! Lovely Eva! Who would strike Eva?" The story of this tragedy, to be true, must show that Mr. Adams knew his brother's bride both long and well.
11. If Bartow is, as we think, innocent of all connection with this crime save as witness, why does he show such joy at its result? This may not reasonably be expected to fall within the scope of Thomas Adams's confession, but it should not be ignored by us. This deaf-and-dumb servitor was driven mad by a fact which caused him joy. Why?
12. Notice the following schedule. It has been drawn up after repeated experiments with Bartow and the various slides of the strange lamp which cause so many different lights to shine out in Mr. Adams's study:
White light—Water wanted. Green light—Overcoat and hat to be brought. Blue light—Put back books on shelves. Violet light—Arrange study for the night. Yellow light—Watch for next light. Red light—Nothing wanted; stay away.
The last was on at the final scene. Note if this fact can be explained by Mr. Adams's account of the same.
With these points in our mind, let us peruse the history of this crime and of the remote and possibly complicated causes which led to it.
THE SECRET OF THE CADWALADERS.
Thomas Cadwalader suggested rather than told his story. We dare not imitate him in this, nor would it be just to your interest to relate these facts with all the baldness and lack of detail imposed upon this unhappy man by the hurry and anxiety of the occasion. Remarkable tragedies have their birth in remarkable facts, and as such facts are but the outcome of human passions, we must enter into those passions if we would understand either the facts or their appalling consequences. In this case, the first link of the chain which led to Felix Adams's violent death was forged before the birth of the woman who struck him. We must begin, then, with almost forgotten days, and tell the story, as her pleader did, from the standpoint of Felix and Thomas Cadwalader.
Thomas Cadwalader—now called Adams—never knew his mother; she died in his early infancy. Nor could he be said to have known his father, having been brought up in France by an old Scotch lawyer, who, being related to his mother, sometimes spoke of her, but never of his father, till Thomas had reached his fifteenth year. Then he put certain books into his hands, with this remarkable injunction:
"Here are romances, Thomas. Read them; but remember that none of them, no matter how thrilling in matter or effect, will ever equal the story of your father's bitterly wronged and suffering life."
"My father!" he cried; "tell me about him; I have never heard."
But his guardian, satisfied with an allusion which he knew must bear fruit in the extremely susceptible nature of this isolated boy, said no more that day, and Thomas turned to the books. But nothing after that could ever take his mind away from his father. He had scarcely thought of him for years, but now that that father had been placed before him in the light of a wronged man, he found himself continually hunting back in the deepest recesses of his memory for some long-forgotten recollection of that father's features calculated to restore his image to his eyes. Sometimes he succeeded in this, or thought he did; but this image, if image it was, was so speedily lost in a sensation of something strange and awe-compelling enveloping it, that he found himself more absorbed by the intangible impressions associated with this memory than by the memory itself. What were these impressions, and in what had they originated? In vain he tried to determine. They were as vague as they were persistent. A stretch of darkness—two bars of orange light, always shining, always the same—black lines against these bars, like the tops of distant gables—an inner thrill—a vague affright—a rush about him as of a swooping wind—all this came with his father's image, only to fade away with it, leaving him troubled, uneasy, and perplexed. Finding these impressions persistent, and receiving no explanation of them in his own mind, he finally asked his guardian what they meant. But that guardian was as ignorant as himself on this topic; and satisfied with having roused the boy's imagination, confined himself to hints, dropped now and then with a judiciousness which proved the existence of a deliberate purpose, of some duty which awaited him on the other side of the water, a duty which would explain his long exile from his only parent and for which he must fit himself by study and the acquirement of such accomplishments as render a young man a positive power in society, whether that society be of the Old World or the New. He showed his shrewdness in thus dealing with this pliable and deeply affectionate nature. From this time forth Thomas felt himself leading a life of mystery and interest.
To feel himself appointed for a work whose unknown character only heightened its importance gave point to every effort now made by this young man, and lent to his studies that vague touch of romance which made them a delight, and him an adept in many things he might otherwise have cared little about. At eighteen he was a graduate from the Sorbonne, and a musical virtuoso as well. He could fence, ride, and carry off the prize in games requiring physical prowess as well as mental fitness. He was, in fact, a prodigy in many ways, and was so considered by his fellow-students. He, however, was not perfect; he lacked social charm, and in so far failed of being the complete gentleman. This he was made to realize in the following way:
One morning his guardian came to him with a letter from his father, in which, together with some words of commendation for his present attainments, that father expressed a certain dissatisfaction with his general manner as being too abrupt and self-satisfied with those of his own sex, and much too timid and deprecatory with those of the other. Thomas felt the criticism and recognized its justice; but how had his father, proved by his letter to be no longer a myth, become acquainted with defects which Thomas instinctively felt could never have attracted the attention of his far from polished guardian?
His questions on this point elicited a response that confounded him. He was not the only son of his father; he had a brother living, and this brother, older than himself by some twenty years or more, had just been in Paris, where, in all probability, he had met him, talked with him, and perhaps pressed his hand.
It was a discovery calculated to deepen the impression already made upon Thomas's mind. Only a purpose of the greatest importance could account for so much mystery. What could it be? What was he destined to do or say or be? He was not told, but while awaiting enlightenment he was resolved not to be a disappointment to the two anxious souls who watched his career so eagerly and exacted from him such perfection. He consequently moderated his manner, and during the following year acquired by constant association with the gilded youth about him that indescribable charm of the perfect gentleman which he was led to believe would alone meet with the approval of those he now felt bound to please. At the end of the year he found himself a finished man of the world. How truly so, he began to realize when he noted the blush with which his presence was hailed by women and the respect shown him by men of his own stamp. In the midst of the satisfaction thus experienced his guardian paid him a final visit.
"You are now ready," said he, "for your father's summons. It will come in a few weeks. Be careful, then. Form no ties you cannot readily break; for, once recalled from France, you are not likely to return here. What your father's purpose concerning you may be I do not know, but it is no ordinary one. You will have money, a well-appointed home, family affection, all that you have hitherto craved in vain, and in return you will carry solace to a heart which has awaited your healing touch for twenty years. So much I am ordered to say; the rest you will hear from your father's own lips."
Aroused, encouraged, animated by the wildest hopes, the most extravagant anticipations, Thomas awaited his father's call with feverish impatience, and when it came, hastened to respond to it by an immediate voyage to America. This was some six months previous to the tragedy in —— Street. On his arrival at the wharf in New York he was met, not by his brother, as he had every reason to expect, but by a messenger in whose face evil tidings were apparent before he spoke. Thomas was soon made acquainted with them. His father, who he now learned was called Cadwalader (he himself had always been called Adams), was ill, possibly dying. He must therefore hasten, and, being provided with minute instructions as to his way, took the train at once for a small village in northern Pennsylvania.
All that followed was a dream to him. He was hurried through the night, with the motion of the ship still in his blood, to meet—what? He dared not think. He swam in a veritable nightmare. Then came a stop, a hurrying from the train, a halt on a platform reeking with rain (for the night was stormy), a call from some one to hurry, the sight of a panting horse steaming under a lamp whose blowing flame he often woke in after nights to see, a push from a persuasive hand, then a ride over a country road the darkness of which seemed impenetrable, and, finally, the startling vision of an open door, with a Meg Merrilies of a woman standing in it, holding a flaming candle in her hand. The candle went out while he looked at it, and left only a voice to guide him—a voice which, in tones shaken by chill or feeling, he could not tell which, cried eagerly:
"Is that you, laddie? Come awa in. Come awa in. Dinna heed the rain. The maister's been crying on you a' day. I'm glad you're no ower late."
He got down, followed the voice, and, stumbling up a step or two, entered a narrow door, which was with difficulty held open behind him, and which swung to with a loud noise the minute he crossed the threshold. This or the dreariness of the place in which he found himself disturbed him greatly. Bare floors, stained walls, meagre doorways, and a common pine staircase, lighted only by the miserable candle which the old woman had relit—were these the appointments of the palatial home he had been led to expect? These the surroundings, this the abode of him who had exacted such perfection on his part, and to satisfy whose standard he had devoted years of hourly, daily effort, in every department of art and science? A sickening revolt seized him, aggravated by the smiles of the old woman, who dipped and courtesied before him in senile delight. She may have divined his feelings, for, drawing him inside, she relieved him of his overcoat, crying all the while, with an extravagant welcome more repulsive than all the rest:
"O the fine laddie! Wad your puir mither could see you the noo! Bonnie and clever! No your faither's bairn ava! All mither, laddie, all mither!"
The room was no better than the hall.
"Where is my father?" he asked, authoritatively, striving to keep down his strong repugnance.
"Dinna ye hear him? He's crying on ye. Puir man, he's wearying to see ye."
Hear him? He could scarcely hear her. The driving rain, the swish of some great boughs against the house, the rattling of casements and doors, and the shrieking of wind in the chimney made all other sounds wellnigh inaudible. Yet as he listened he seemed to catch the accents of a far-off voice calling, now wistfully, now imperatively, "Thomas! Thomas!" And, thrilled with an emotion almost superstitious in its intensity, he moved hastily toward the staircase.
But the old woman was there before him. "Na! Na!" she cried. "Come in by and eat something first."
But Thomas shook his head. It seemed to him at that moment as if he never could eat or sleep again, the disillusion was so bitter, his disappointment so keen.
"You will na? Then haste ye—haste ye. But it's a peety you wadna ha'e eaten something. Ye'll need it, laddie; ye'll need it."
"Thomas! Thomas!" wailed the voice.
He tore himself away. He forced himself to go upstairs, following the cry, which at every moment grew louder. At the top he cast a final glance below. The old woman stood at the stair-foot, shading the candle from the draught with a hand that shook with something more than age. She was gazing after him in vague affright, and with the shadow of this fear darkening her weazen face, formed a picture from which he was glad to escape.
Plunging on, he found himself before a window whose small panes dripped and groaned under a rain that was fast becoming a torrent. Chilled by the sight, he turned toward the door faintly outlined beside it, and in the semi-darkness seized an old-fashioned latch rattling in the wind that permeated every passageway, and softly raised it.
Instantly the door fell back, and two eyes blazing with fever and that fire of the soul of which fever is the mere physical symbol greeted him from the midst of a huge bed drawn up against the opposite wall. Then two arms rose, and the moaning cry of "Thomas! Thomas!" changed to a shout, and he knew himself to be in the presence of his father.
Falling on his knees in speechless emotion, he grasped the wasted hands held out to him. Such a face, rugged though it was and far from fulfilling the promise held out to him in his dreams, could not but move any man. As he gazed into it and pressed the hands in which the life blood only seemed to linger for this last, this only embrace, all his filial instincts were aroused and he forgot the common surroundings, the depressing rain, his own fatigue and bitter disappointment, in his lifelong craving for love and family recognition.
But the old man on whose breast he fell showed other emotions than those by which he was himself actuated. It was not an embrace he craved, but an opportunity to satisfy an almost frenzied curiosity as to the appearance and attributes of the son who had grown to manhood under other eyes. Pushing him gently back, he bade him stand in the light of the lamp burning on a small pine table, and surveyed him, as it were, from the verge of his own fast failing life, with moans of mingled pain and weariness, amid which Thomas thought he heard the accents of a supreme satisfaction.
Meanwhile in Thomas himself, as he stood there, the sense of complete desolation filled his breast almost to bursting. To have come home for this! To find a father only to be weighed in the scales of that father's judgment! To be admired, instead of loved!
As he realized his position and listened to the shrieking of the wind and rain, he felt that the wail of the elements but echoed the cry of his own affections, thus strangled in their birth. Indeed the sensations of that moment made so deep an impression upon him that he was never afterward able to hear a furious gust of wind or rain without the picture rising up before him of this great hollow room, with the trembling figure of his father struggling in the grasp of death and holding it at bay, while he gauged with worldly wisdom the physical, mental, and moral advantages of the son so long banished and so lately restored to his arms.
A rush of impetuous words followed by the collapse of his father's form upon the pillow showed that the examination was over. Rushing forward, he grasped again that father's hands, but soon shrank back, stunned by what he heard and the prospect it opened before him. A few of his father's words will interpret the rest. They came in a flood, and among others Thomas caught these:
"The grace of God be thanked! Our efforts have not failed. Handsome, strong, noble in look and character, we could ask nothing more, hope for nothing more. My revenge will succeed! John Poindexter will find that he has a heart, and that that heart can be wrung. I do not need to live to see it. For me it exists now; it exists here!" And he struck his breast with hands that seemed to have reserved their last strength for this supreme gesture.
John Poindexter! Who was he? It was a new name to Thomas. Venturing to say so, he reeled under the look he received from his father's eyes.
"You do not know who John Poindexter is, and what he has done to me and mine? They have kept their promise well, too well, but God will accord me strength to tell you what has been left unsaid by them. He would not bring me up to this hour to let me perish before you have heard the story destined to make you the avenger of innocence upon that enemy of your race. Listen, Thomas. With the hand of death encircling my heart, I speak, and if the story find you cold—But it will not. Your name is Cadwalader, and it will not."
Constrained by passions such as he had never imagined even in dreams, Thomas fell upon his knees. He could not listen otherwise. His father, gasping for breath, fixed him with his hollow eyes, in which the last flickering flames of life flared up in fitful brightness.
"Thomas"—the pause was brief—"you are not my only child."
"I know it," fell from Thomas's white lips. "I have a brother; his name is Felix."
The father shook his head with a look suggestive of impatience.
"Not him! Not him!" he cried. "A sister! a sister, who died before you were born—beautiful, good, with a voice like an angel's and a heart—she should be standing by my side to-day, and she would have been if—if he—but none of that. I have no breath to waste. Facts, facts, just facts! Afterward may come emotions, hatred, denunciation, not now. This is my story, Thomas.
"John Poindexter and I were friends. From boyhood we shared each other's bed, food, and pleasures, and when he came to seek his fortune in America I accompanied him. He was an able man, but cold. I was of an affectionate nature, but without any business capacity. As proof of this, in fifteen years he was rich, esteemed, the master of a fine house, and the owner of half a dozen horses; while I was the same nobody I had been at first, or would have been had not Providence given me two beautiful children and blessed, or rather cursed, me with the friendship of this prosperous man. When Felix was fourteen and Evelyn three years older, their mother died. Soon after, the little money I had vanished in an unfortunate enterprise, and life began to promise ill, both for myself and for my growing children. John Poindexter, who was honest enough then, or let me hope so, and who had no children of his own, though he had been long married, offered to take one of mine to educate. But I did not consent to this till the war of the rebellion broke out; then I sent him both son and daughter, and went into the army. For four years I fought for the flag, suffering all that a man can suffer and live, and being at last released from Libby Prison, came home with a heart full of gratitude and with every affection keyed up by a long series of unspeakable experiences, to greet my son and clasp once more within my wasted arms the idolized form of my deeply loved daughter. What did I find? A funeral in the streets—hers—and Felix, your brother, walking like a guard between her speechless corpse and the man under whose protection I had placed her youth and innocence.
"Betrayed!" shrieked the now frenzied parent, rising on his pillow. "Her innocence! Her sweetness! And he, cold as the stone we laid upon her grave, had seen her perish with the anguish and shame of it, without a sign of grief or a word of contrition."
"O God!" burst from lips the old man was watching with frenzied cunning.
"Ay, God!" repeated the father, shaking his head as if in defiance before he fell back on his pillow. "He allowed it and I—But this does not tell the story. I must keep to facts as Felix did—Felix, who was but fifteen years old and yet found himself the only confidant and solace of this young girl betrayed by her protector. It was after her burial——"
"Cease!" cried a voice, smooth, fresh, and yet strangely commanding, from over Thomas's shoulder. "Let me tell the rest. No man can tell the rest as I can."
"Felix!" ejaculated Amos Cadwalader below his breath.
"Felix!" repeated Thomas, shaken to his very heart by this new presence. But when he sought to rise, to turn, he felt the pressure of a hand on his shoulder and heard that voice again, saying softly, but peremptorily:
"Wait! Wait till you hear what I have to say. Think not of me, think only of her. It is she you are called upon to avenge; your sister, Evelyn."
Thomas yielded to him as he had to his father. He sank down beneath that insistent hand, and his brother took up the tale.
"Evelyn had a voice like a bird. In those days before father's return, she used to fill old John Poindexter's house with melody. I, who, as a boy, was studious, rather than artistic, thought she sang too much for a girl whose father was rotting away in a Southern prison. But when about to rebuke her, I remembered Edward Kissam, and was silent. For it was his love which made her glad, and to him I wished every happiness, for he was good, and honest, and kind to me. She was eighteen then, and beautiful, or so I was bound to believe, since every man looked at her, even old John Poindexter, though he never looked at any other woman, not even his own wife. And she was good, too, and pure, I swear, for her blue eyes never faltered in looking into mine until one day when—my God! how well I remember it!—they not only faltered, but shrank before me in such terror, that, boy though I was, I knew that something terrible, something unprecedented had happened, and thinking my one thought, I asked if she had received bad news from father. Her answer was a horrified moan, but it might have been a shriek. 'Our father! Pray God we may never see him or hear from him again. If you love him, if you love me, pray he may die in prison rather than return here to see me as I am now.'
"I thought she had gone mad, and perhaps she had for a moment; for at my look of startled distress a change took place in her. She remembered my youth, and laughing, or trying to laugh away her frenzy, uttered some hurried words I failed to understand, and then, sinking at my knee, laid her head against my side, crying that she was not well; that she had experienced for a long time secret pains and great inward distress, and that she sometimes feared she was not going to live long, for all her songs and merry ways and seeming health and spirits.
"'Not live, Evelyn?' It was an inconceivable thought to me, a boy. I looked at her, and seeing how pale, how incomprehensibly pale she was, my heart failed me, for nothing but mortal sickness could make such a change in any one in a week, in a day. Yet how could death reach her, loved as she was by Edward, by her father, and by me. Thinking to rouse her, I spoke the former's name. But it was the last word I should have uttered. Crouching as if I had given her a blow, she put her two hands out, shrieking faintly: 'Not that! Never that! Do not speak his name. Let me never hear of him or see him again. I am dead—do you not understand me?—dead to all the world from this day—except to you!' she suddenly sobbed, 'except to you!' And still I did not comprehend her. But when I understood, as I soon did, that no mention was to be made of her illness; that her door was to be shut and no one allowed to enter, not even Mrs. Poindexter or her guardian—least of all, her guardian—I began to catch the first intimation of that horror which was to end my youth and fill my whole after life with but one thought—revenge. But I said nothing, only watched and waited. Seeing that she was really ill, I constituted myself her nurse, and sat by her night and day till her symptoms became so alarming that the whole household was aroused and we could no longer keep the doctor from her. Then I sat at her door, and with one ear turned to catch her lightest moan, listened for the step she most dreaded, but which, though it sometimes approached, never passed the opening of the hall leading to her chamber. For one whole week I sat there, watching her life go slowly out like a flame, with nothing to feed it; then as the great shadow fell, and life seemed breaking up within me, I dashed from the place, and confronting him where I found him walking, pale and disturbed, in his own hall, told him that my father was coming; that I had had a dream, and in that dream I had seen my father with his face turned toward this place. Was he prepared to meet him? Had he an answer ready when Amos Cadwalader should ask him what had become of his child?
"I had meant to shock the truth from this man, and I did so. As I mentioned my father's name, Poindexter blanched, and my fears became certainty. Dropping my youthful manner, for I was a boy no longer, I flung his crime in his face, and begged him to deny it if he could. He could not, but he did what neither he nor any other man could do in my presence now and live—he smiled. Then when he saw me crouching for a spring—for, young as I was, I knew but one impulse, and that was to fly at his throat—he put out his powerful hand, and pinning me to the ground, uttered a few short sentences in my ear.
"They were terrible ones. They made me see that nothing I might then do could obliterate the fact that she was lost if the world knew what I knew, or even so much as suspected it; that any betrayal on my part or act of contrition on his would only pile the earth on her innocent breast and sink her deeper and deeper into the grave she was then digging for herself; that all dreams were falsities; that Southern prisons seldom gave up their victims alive; and that if my father should escape the jaws of Libby and return, it was for me to be glad if he found a quiet grave instead of a dishonored daughter. Further, that if I crossed him, who was power itself, by any boyish exhibition of hate, I would find that any odium I might invoke would fall on her and not on him, making me an abhorrence, not only to the world at large, but to the very father in whose interest I might pretend to act.
"I was young and without worldly experience. I yielded to these arguments, but I cursed him where he stood. With his hand pressing heavily upon me, I cursed him to his face; then I went back to my sister.
"Had she, by some supernatural power, listened to our talk, or had she really been visited by some dream, that she looked so changed? There was a feverish light in her eye, and something like the shadow of a smile on her lips. Mrs. Poindexter was with her; Mrs. Poindexter, whose face was a mask we never tried to penetrate. But when she had left us alone again, then Evelyn spoke, and I saw what her dream had been.
"'Felix,' she cried as I approached her trembling with my own emotions and half afraid of hers, 'there is still one hope for me. It has come to me while you have been away. Edward—he loves me—did—perhaps he would forgive. If he would take me into his protection (I see you know it all, Felix) then I might grow happy again—well—strong—good. Do you think—oh, you are a child, what do you know?—but—but before I turn my face forever to the wall try if he will see me—try, try—with your boy's wit—your clever schemes, to get him here unknown to—to—the one I fear, I hate—and then, then, if he bids me live, I will live, and if he bids me die, I will die; and all will be ended.'
"I was an ignorant boy. I knew men no more than I knew women, and yielding to her importunities, I promised to see Edward and plan for an interview without her guardian's knowledge. I was, as Evelyn had said, keen in those days and full of resources, and I easily managed it. Edward, who had watched from the garden as I had from the door, was easily persuaded to climb her lattice in search of what he had every reason to believe would be his last earthly interview with his darling. As his eager form bounded into the room I tottered forth, carrying with me a vision of her face as she rose to meet—what? I dared not think or attempt to foresee. Falling on my knees I waited the issue. Alas! It was a speedy one. A stifled moan from her, the sound of a hoarse farewell from him, told me that his love had failed her, and that her doom was sealed. Creeping back to her side as quickly as my failing courage admitted, I found her face turned to the wall, from which it never again looked back; while presently, before the hour was passed, shouts ringing through the town proclaimed that young Kissam had shot himself. She heard, and died that night. In her last hour she had fancies. She thought she saw her father, and her prayers for mercy were heart-rending. Then she thought she saw him, that demon, her executioner, and cringed and moaned against the wall.
"But enough of this. Two days after, I walked between him and her silent figure outstretched for burial. I had promised that no eye but mine should look upon her, no other hand touch her, and I kept my word, even when the impossible happened and her father rose up in the street before us. Quietly, and in honor, she was carried to her grave, and then—then, in the solitude of the retreat I had found for him, I told our father all, and why I had denied him the only comfort which seemed left to him—a last look at his darling daughter's face."
A sigh from the panting breast of Amos Cadwalader followed these words. Plainer than speech it told of a grief still fresh and an agony still unappeased, though thirty years had passed away since the unhappy hour of which Felix spoke.
Felix, echoing it, went quickly on:
"It was dusk when I told my story, and from dark to dawn we sat with eyes fixed on each other's face, without sleep and without rest. Then we sought John Poindexter.
"Had he shunned us we might have had mercy, but he met us openly, quietly, and with all the indifference of one who cannot measure feeling, because he is incapable of experiencing it himself. His first sentence evinced this. 'Spare yourselves, spare me all useless recriminations. The girl is dead; I cannot call her back again. Enjoy your life, your eating and your drinking, your getting and your spending; it is but for a few more years at best. Why harp on old 'griefs?' His last word was a triumph. 'When a man cares for nothing or nobody, it is useless to curse him.'
"Ah, that was it! That was the secret of his power. He cared for nothing and for no one, not even for himself. We felt the blow, and bent under it. But before leaving him and the town, we swore, your father and I, that we would yet make that cold heart feel; that some day, in some way, we would cause that impassive nature to suffer as he had made us suffer, however happy he might seem or however closely his prosperity might cling to him. That was thirty years ago, and that oath has not yet been fulfilled."
Felix paused. Thomas lifted his head, but the old man would not let him speak. "There are men who forget in a month, others who forget in a year. I have never forgotten, nor has Felix here. When you were born (I had married again, in the hope of renewed joy) I felt, I know not why, that Evelyn's avenger was come. And when, a year or so after this event, we heard that God had forgotten John Poindexter's sins, or, perhaps, remembered them, and that a child was given him also, after eighteen years of married life, I looked upon your bonny face and saw—or thought I saw—a possible means of bringing about the vengeance to which Felix and I had dedicated our lives.
"You grew; your ardent nature, generous temper, and facile mind promised an abundant manhood, and when your mother died, leaving me for a second time a widower, I no longer hesitated to devote you to the purpose for which you seemed born. Thomas, do you remember the beginning of that journey which finally led you far from me? How I bore you on my shoulder along a dusty road, till arrived within sight of his home, I raised you from among the tombs and, showing you those distant gables looming black against the twilight's gold, dedicated you to the destruction of whatever happiness might hereafter develop under his infant's smile? You do? I did not think you could forget; and now that the time has come for the promise of that hour to be fulfilled, I call on you again, Thomas. Avenge our griefs, avenge your sister. Poindexter's girl has grown to womanhood."
At the suggestion conveyed in these words Thomas recoiled in horror. But the old man failed to read his emotion rightly. Clutching his arm, he proceeded passionately:
"Woo her! Win her! They do not know you. You will be Thomas Adams to them, not Thomas Cadwalader. Gather this budding flower into your bosom, and then—Oh, he must love his child! Through her we have our hand on his heart. Make her suffer—she's but a country girl, and you have lived in Paris—make her suffer, and if, in doing so, you cause him to blench, then believe I am looking upon you from the grave I go to, and be happy; for you will not have lived, nor will I have died, in vain."
He paused to catch his failing breath, but his indomitable will triumphed over death and held Thomas under a spell that confounded his instincts and made him the puppet of feelings which had accumulated their force to fill him, in one hour, with a hate which it had taken his father and brother a quarter of a century to bring to the point of active vengeance.
"I shall die; I am dying now," the old man panted on. "I shall never live to see your triumph; I shall never behold John Poindexter's eye glaze with those sufferings which rend the entrails and make a man question if there is a God in heaven. But I shall know it where I am. No mounded earth can keep my spirit down when John Poindexter feels his doom. I shall be conscious of his anguish and shall rejoice; and when in the depths of darkness to which I go he comes faltering along my way——
"Boy, boy, you have been reared for this. God made you handsome; man has made you strong; you have made yourself intelligent and accomplished. You have only to show yourself to this country girl to become the master of her will and affection, and these once yours, remember me! Remember Evelyn!"
Never had Thomas been witness to such passion. It swept him along in a burning stream against which he sought to contend and could not. Raising his hand in what he meant as a response to that appeal, he endeavored to speak, but failed. His father misinterpreted his silence, and bitterly cried:
"You are dumb! You do not like the task; are virtuous, perhaps—you who have lived for years alone and unhampered in Paris. Or you have instincts of honor, habits of generosity that blind you to wrongs that for a longer space than your lifetime have cried aloud to heaven for vengeance. Thomas, Thomas, if you should fail me now——"
"He will not fail you," broke in the voice of Felix, calm, suave, and insinuating. "I have watched him; I know him; he will not fail you."
Thomas shuddered; he had forgotten Felix, but as he heard these words he could no longer delay looking at the man who had offered to stand his surety for the performance of the unholy deed his father exacted from him. Turning, he saw a man who in any place and under any roof would attract attention, awake admiration and—yes, fear. He was not a large man, not so large as himself, but the will that expressed itself in frenzy on his father's lips showed quiet and inflexible in the gray eye resting upon his own with a power he could never hope to evade. As he looked and comprehended, a steel band seemed to compress his heart; yet he was conscious at the same time that the personality before which he thus succumbed was as elegant as his own and as perfectly trained in all the ways of men and of life. Even the air of poverty which had shocked him in his father's person and surroundings was not visible here. Felix was both well and handsomely clad, and could hold his own as the elder brother in every respect most insisted upon by the Parisian gentleman. The long and, to Thomas, mysterious curtain of dark-green serge which stretched behind him from floor to ceiling threw out his pale features with a remarkable distinctness, and for an instant Thomas wondered if it had been hung there for the purpose of producing this effect. But the demand in his brother's face drew his attention, and, bowing his head, he stammered:
"I am at your command, Felix. I am at your command, father. I cannot say more. Only remember that I never saw Evelyn, that she died before I was born, and that I——"
But here Felix's voice broke in, kind, but measured:
"Perhaps there is some obstacle we have not reckoned upon. You may already love some woman and desire to marry her. If so, it need be no impediment——"
But here Thomas's indignation found voice.
"No," said he; "I am heart-whole save for a few lingering fancies which are fast becoming vanishing dreams."
He seemed to have lived years since entering this room.
"Your heart will not be disturbed now," commented Felix. "I have seen the girl. I went there on purpose a year ago. She's as pale as a snow-drop and as listless. You will not be obliged to recall to mind the gay smiles of Parisian ladies to be proof against her charms."
Thomas shrugged his shoulders.
"She must be made to know the full intoxication of hope," Felix proceeded in his clear and cutting voice. "To realize despair she must first experience every delight that comes with satisfied love. Have you the skill as well as heart to play to the end a role which will take patience as well as dissimulation, courage as well as subtlety, and that union of will and implacability which finds its food in tears and is strengthened, rather than lessened, by the suffering of its victim?"
"I have the skill," murmured Thomas, "but——"
"You lack the incentive," finished Felix. "Well, well, we must have patience with your doubts and hesitations. Our hate has been fostered by memories of her whom, as you say, you have never seen. Look, then, Thomas. Look at your sister as she was, as she is for us. Look at her, and think of her as despoiled, killed, forgotten by Poindexter. Have you ever gazed upon a more moving countenance, or one in which beauty contends with a keener prophecy of woe?"
Not knowing what to expect, anticipating almost to be met by her shade, Thomas followed the direction of his brother's lifted hand, and beheld, where but a minute before that dismal curtain had hung, a blaze of light, in the midst of which he saw a charming, but tragic, figure, such as no gallery in all Europe had ever shown him, possibly because no other limned face or form had ever appealed to his heart. It did not seem a picture, it seemed her very self, a gentle, loving self that breathed forth all the tenderness he had vainly sought for in his living relatives; and falling at her feet, he cried out:
"Do not look at me so reproachfully, sweet Evelyn. I was born to avenge you, and I will. John Poindexter shall never go down in peace to his tomb."
A sigh of utter contentment came from the direction of the bed.
"Swear it!" cried his father, holding out his arms before him in the form of a cross.
"Yes, swear it!" repeated Felix, laying his own hand on those crossed arms.
Thomas drew near, and laid his hand beside that of Felix.
"I swear," he began, raising his voice above the tempest, which poured gust after gust against the house. "I swear to win the affections of Eva Poindexter, and then, when her heart is all mine, to cast her back in anguish and contumely on the breast of John Poindexter."
"Good!" came from what seemed to him an immeasurable distance. Then the darkness, which since the taking of this oath had settled over his senses, fell, and he sank insensible at the feet of his dying father.
* * * * *
Amos Cadwalader died that night; but not without one awful scene more. About midnight he roused from the sleep which had followed the exciting incidents I have just related, and glancing from Thomas to Felix, sitting on either side of the bed, fixed his eyes with a strange gleam upon the door.
"Ah!" he ejaculated, "a visitor! John Poindexter! He comes to ask my forgiveness before I set out on my dismal journey."
The sarcasm of his tone, the courtesy of his manner, caused the hair to stir on the heads of his two sons. That he saw his enemy as plainly as he saw them, neither could doubt.
"Does he dread my meeting with Evelyn? Does he wish to placate me before I am joined to that pathetic shade? He shall not be disappointed. I forgive you, John Poindexter! I forgive you my daughter's shame, my blighted life. I am dying; but I leave one behind who will not forgive you. I have a son, an avenger of the dead, who yet lives to—to——"
He fell back. With these words, which seemed to seal Thomas to his task, Amos Cadwalader died.
Felix had not inherited his father's incapacity for making money. In the twenty years that had passed since Thomas had been abroad he had built up a fortune, which he could not induce his father to share, but which that father was perfectly willing to see devoted to their mutual revenge. There was meaning, therefore, in the injunction Felix gave his brother on his departure for Montgomery:
"I have money; spend it; spend what you will, and when your task is completed, there will still be some left for your amusement."
Thomas bowed. "The laborer is worthy of his hire," was his thought. "And you?" he asked, looking about the scanty walls, which seemed to have lost their very excuse for being now that his father had died. "Will you remain here?"
Felix's answer was abrupt, but positive. "No; I go to New York to-morrow. I have rented a house there, which you may one day wish to share. The name under which I have leased it is Adams, Felix Adams. As such you will address me. Cadwalader is a name that must not leave your lips in Montgomery, nor must you forget that my person is known there, otherwise we might not have been dependent on you for the success of our revenge." And he smiled, fully conscious of being the handsomer man of the two. "And now how about those introductions we enjoined you to bring from Paris?"
* * * * *
The history of the next few weeks can best be understood by reading certain letters sent by Thomas to Felix, by examining a diary drawn up by the same writer for his own relief and satisfaction. The letters will be found on the left, and the diary on the right, of the double columns hereby submitted. The former are a summary of facts; the latter is a summary of feelings. Both are necessary to a right comprehension of the situation.
* * * * *
I am here; I have seen her. She is, as you have said, a pale blonde. To-morrow I present my credentials to John Poindexter. From what I have already experienced I anticipate a favorable reception.
Yours aff., THOMAS.
I could not write Felix the true story of this day. Why? And why must I write it here? To turn my mind from dwelling on it? Perhaps. I do not seem to understand my own feelings, or why I begin to dread my task, while ardently pressing forward to accomplish it.
I have seen her. This much I wrote to Felix, but I did not say where our meeting took place or how. How could I? Would he understand how one of Poindexter's blood could be employed in a gracious act, or how I, filled with a purpose that has made my heart dark as hell ever since I embraced it, could find that heart swell and that purpose sink at my first glimpse of the face whose beauty I have sworn to devote to agony and tears? Surely, surely Felix would have been stronger, and yet——
I went from the cars to the cemetery. Before entering the town or seeing to my own comfort, I sought Evelyn's grave, there to renew my oath in the place where, nineteen years ago, my father held me up, a four-year-old child, in threat, toward John Poindexter's home. I had succeeded in finding the old and neglected stone which marked her resting-place, and was bending in the sunset light to examine it, when the rustle of a woman's skirts attracted my attention, and I perceived advancing toward me a young girl in a nimbus of rosy light which seemed to lift her from the ground and give to her delicate figure and strangely illumined head an ethereal aspect which her pure features and tender bearing did not belie. In her arms she carried a huge cluster of snow-white lilies, and when I observed that her eyes were directed not on me, but on the grave beside which I stood, I moved aside into the shadow of some bushes and watched her while she strewed these flowers—emblems of innocence—over the grave I had just left.
What did it mean, and who was this young girl who honored with such gracious memorials the grave of my long-buried sister? As she rose from her task I could no longer restrain either my emotion or the curiosity with which her act had inspired me. Advancing, I greeted her with all the respect her appearance called for, and noting that her face was even more beautiful when lifted in speech than when bent in gravity over her flowers, I asked her, in the indifferent tone of a stranger, who was buried in this spot, and why she, a mere girl, dropped flowers upon a grave the mosses of whose stone proved it to have been dug long before she was born.
Her answer caused me a shock, full as my life has lately been of startling experiences. "I strew flowers here," said she, "because the girl who lies buried under this stone had the same birthday as myself. I never saw her, it's true, but she died in my father's house when she was no older than I am to-day, and since I have become a woman and realize what loss there is in dying young, I have made it a custom to share with her my birthday flowers. She was a lily, they say, in appearance and character, and so I bring her lilies."
It was Eva Poindexter, the girl I—And she was strewing flowers on Evelyn's grave.
* * * * *
I have touched the hand of John Poindexter. In order to win a place in the good graces of the daughter I must please the father, or at least attract his favorable notice. I have reason to think I have done this.
Very truly, THOMAS.
I no longer feel myself a true man. John Poindexter is cold in appearance, hard in manner, and inflexible in opinion, but he does not inspire the abhorrence I anticipated nor awaken in me the one thought due to the memory of my sister. Is it because he is Eva's father? Has the loveliness of the daughter cast a halo about the parent? If so, Felix has a right to execrate me and my father to——
* * * * *
The introductions furnished me have made me received everywhere. There is considerable wealth here and many fine houses. Consequently I find myself in a congenial society, of which she is the star. Did I say that he was, as of old, the chief man of the town?
Yours truly, THOMAS.
She is beautiful. She has the daintiness of the lily and the flush of the rose. But it is not her beauty that moves me; it is the strange sweetness of her nature, which, nevertheless, has no weakness in it; on the contrary, it possesses peculiar strength, which becomes instantly apparent at the call of duty. Could Felix have imagined such a Poindexter? I cannot contemplate such loveliness and associate it with the execrable sin which calls down vengeance upon this house. I cannot even dwell upon my past life. All that is dark, threatening, secret, and revengeful slips from me under her eye, and I dream of what is pure, true, satisfying, and ennobling. And this by the influence of her smile, rather than of her words. Have I been given an angel to degrade? Or am I so blind as to behold a saint where others (Felix, let us say) would see only a pretty woman with unexpected attractions?
* * * * *
Rides, dances, games, nonsense generally. My interest in this young girl is beginning to be publicly recognized. She alone seems ignorant of it. Sometimes I wonder if our scheme will fail through her impassibility and more than conventional innocence. I am sometimes afraid she will never love me. Yet I have exerted myself to please her. Indeed, I could not have exerted myself more. To-day I went twenty-five miles on horseback to procure her a trifle she fancied.
Yours aff., THOMAS.
All will not go as easily as Felix imagines. Eva Poindexter may be a country girl, but she has her standards, too, and mere grace and attainment are not sufficient to win her. Have I the other qualities she demands? That remains to be seen. I have one she never dreams of. Will its shadow so overwhelm the rest that her naturally pure spirit will shrink from me just at the moment when I think her mine? I cannot tell, and the doubt creates a hell within me. Something deeper, stronger, more imperious than my revenge makes the winning of this girl's heart a necessity to me. I have forgotten my purpose in this desire. I have forgotten everything except that she is the one woman of my life, and that I can never rest till her heart is wholly mine. Good God! Have I become a slave where I hoped to be master? Have I, Thomas Cadwalader, given my soul into the keeping of this innocent girl? I do not even stop to inquire. To win her—that is all for which I now live.
* * * * *
She may not care for me, but she is interested in no one else. Of this I am assured by John Poindexter, who seems very desirous of aiding me in my attempt to win his daughter's heart. Hard won, close bound. If she ever comes to love me it will be with the force of a very strong nature. The pale blonde has a heart.
Yours aff., THOMAS.
If it were passion only that I feel, I might have some hope of restraining it. But it is something more, something deeper, something which constrains me to look with her eyes, hear with her ears, and throb with her heart. My soul, rather than my senses, is enthralled. I want to win her, not for my own satisfaction, but to make her happy. I want to prove to her that goodness exists in this world—I, who came here to corrode and destroy; I, who am still pledged to do so. Ah, Felix, Felix, you should have chosen an older man for your purpose, or remembered that he who could be influenced as I was by family affections possesses a heart too soft for such infamy.
* * * * *
The name of Evelyn is never mentioned in this house. Sometimes I think that he has forgotten her, and find in this thought the one remaining spur to my revenge. Forgotten her! Strange, that his child, born long after his victim's death, should remember this poor girl, and he forget! Yet on the daughter the blow is planned to fall—if it does fall. Should I not pray that it never may? That she should loathe instead of love me? Distrust, instead of confide in my honor and affection? But who can pray against himself? Eva Poindexter must love me, even if I am driven to self-destruction by my own remorse, after she has confided her heart to my keeping.
* * * * *
Will you send me a few exquisite articles from Tiffany's? I see that her father expects me to give her presents. I think she will accept them. If she does, we may both rest easy as to the state of her affections.
Very truly, THOMAS.
I cannot bring myself to pass a whole day away from her side. If Felix were here and could witness my assiduity, he would commend me in his cold and inflexible heart for the singleness with which I pursue my purpose. He would say to me, in the language of one of his letters: "You are not disappointing us." Us! As if our father still hovered near, sharing our purposes and hope. Alas! if he does, he must penetrate more deeply than Felix into the heart of this matter; must see that with every day's advantage—and I now think each day brings its advantage—I shrink further and further from the end they planned for me; the end which can alone justify my advance in her affections. I am a traitor to my oath, for I now know I shall never disappoint Eva's faith in me. I could not. Rather would I meet my father's accusing eyes on the verge of that strange world to which he has gone, or Felix's recriminations here, or my own contempt for the weakness which has made it possible for me to draw back from the brink of this wicked revenge to which I have devoted myself.
* * * * *
This morning I passed under the window you have described to me as Evelyn's. I did it with a purpose. I wanted to test my own emotions and to see how much feeling it would arouse in me. Enough.
Eva accepted the brooch. It was the simplest thing you sent.
I hate John Poindexter, yes, I hate him, but I can never hate his daughter. Only Felix could so confound the father with the child as to visit his anger upon this gentle embodiment of all that is gracious, all that is trustworthy, all that is fascinating in woman. But am I called upon to hate her? Am I not in a way required to love her? I will ask Felix. No, I cannot ask Felix. He would never comprehend her charm or its influence over me. He would have doubts and come at once to Montgomery. Good God! Am I proving such a traitor to my own flesh and blood that I cannot bear to think of Felix contemplating even in secret the unsuspicious form of his enemy's daughter?
* * * * *
A picnic on the mountains. It fell to me to escort Miss Poindexter down a dangerous slope. Though no words of affection passed between us (she is not yet ready for them), I feel that I have made a decided advance in her good graces.
I have touched her hand! I have felt her sweet form thrilling against mine as we descended the mountain ledges together! No man was near, no eye—there were moments in which we were as much alone in the wide paradise of these wooded slopes as if the world held no other breathing soul. Yet I no more dared to press her hand, or pour forth the mad worship of my heart into her innocent ears, than if the eyes of all Paris had been upon us. How I love her! How far off and faint seem the years of that dead crime my brother would invoke for the punishment of this sweet soul! Yes, and how remote that awful hour in which I knelt beneath the hand of my dying father and swore—Ah, that oath! That oath!
* * * * *
The thing I dreaded, the thing I might have foreseen, has occurred. Felix has made his appearance in Montgomery. I received a communication to that effect from him to-day; a communication in which he commands me to meet him to-night, at Evelyn's grave, at the witching hour of twelve. I do not enjoy the summons. I have a dread of Felix, and begin to think he calculates upon stage devices to control me. But the day has passed for that. I will show him that I can be no more influenced in that place and at that hour than I could be in this hotel room, with the sight of her little glove—is there sin in such thefts?—lying on the table before us. Evelyn! She is a sacred memory. But the dead must not interfere with the living. Eva shall never be sacrificed to Evelyn's manes, not if John Poindexter lives out his life to his last hour in peace; not if Felix—well; I need to play the man; Felix is a formidable antagonist to meet, alone, in a spot of such rancorous memories, at an hour when spirits—if there be spirits—haunt the precincts of the tomb.
* * * * *
I should not have known Felix had I met him in the street. How much of a stranger he appeared, then, in the faint moonlight which poured upon that shaded spot! His very voice seemed altered, and in his manner I remarked a hesitation I had not supposed him capable of showing under any circumstances. Nor were his words such as I expected. The questions I dreaded most he did not ask. The recriminations I looked for he did not utter. He only told me coldly that my courtship must be shortened; that the end for which we were both prepared must be hastened, and gave me two weeks in which to bring matters to a climax. Then he turned to Evelyn's grave, and bending down, tried to read her name on the mossy stone. He was so long in doing this that I leaned down beside him and laid my hand on his shoulder. He was trembling, and his body was as cold as the stone he threw himself against. Was it the memory of her whom that stone covered which had aroused this emotion? If so, it was but natural. To all appearance he has never in all his life loved any one as he did this unhappy sister; and struck with a respect for the grief which has outlived many a man's lifetime, I was shrinking back when he caught my hand, and with a convulsive strain, contrasting strongly with his tone, which was strangely measured, he cried, "Do not forget the end! Do not forget John Poindexter! his sin, his indifference to my father's grief; the accumulated sufferings of years which made Amos Cadwalader a hermit amongst men. I have seen the girl; she has changed—women do change at her age—and some men, I do not say you, but some men might think her beautiful. But beauty, if she has it, must not blind your eyes, which are fixed upon another goal. Overlook it; overlook her—you have done so, have you not? Pale beauties cannot move one who has sat at the feet of the most dazzling of Parisian women. Keep your eyes on John Poindexter, the debt he owes us, and the suffering we have promised him. That she is sweet, gentle, different from all we thought her, only makes the chances of reaching his heart the greater. The worthier she may be of affections not indigenous to that hard soul, the surer will be our grip upon his nature and the heavier his downfall."
The old spell was upon me. I could neither answer nor assert myself. Letting go my hand, he rose, and with his back to the village—I noticed he had not turned his face to it since coming to this spot—he said: "I shall return to New York to-morrow. In two weeks you will telegraph your readiness to take up your abode with me. I have a home that will satisfy you; and it will soon be all your own."
Here he gripped his heart; and, dark as it was, I detected a strange convulsion cross his features as he turned into the moonlight. But it was gone before we could descend.
"You may hear from me again," he remarked somewhat faintly as he grasped my hand, and turned away in his own direction. I had not spoken a word during the whole interview.
* * * * *
I do not hear from you. Are you well, or did your journey affect your health? I have no especial advance to report. John Poindexter seems greatly interested in my courtship. Sometimes he gives me very good advice. How does that strike you, Felix?
I shall never understand Felix. He has not left the town, but is staying here in hiding, watching me, no doubt, to see if the signs of weakening he doubtless suspects in me have a significance deep enough to overthrow his planned revenge. I know this, because I have seen him more than once during the last week, when he thought himself completely invisible. I have caught sight of him in Mr. Poindexter's grounds when Eva and I stood talking together in the window. I even saw him once in church, in a dark corner, to be sure, but where he could keep his eye upon us, sitting together in Mr. Poindexter's pew. He seemed to me thin that day. The suspense he is under is wearing upon him. Is it my duty to cut it short by proclaiming my infidelity to my oath and my determination to marry the girl who has made me forget it?
* * * * *
Miss Poindexter has told me unreservedly that she cares for me. Are you satisfied with me now?
In haste, THOMAS.
She loves me. Oh, ecstasy of life! Eva Poindexter loves me. I forced it from her lips to-day. With my arms around her and her head on my shoulder, I urged her to confession, and it came. Now let Felix do what he will! What is old John Poindexter to me? Her father. What are Amos Cadwalader's hatred and the mortal wrong that called so loudly for revenge? Dead issues, long buried sorrows, which God may remember, but which men are bound to forget. Life, life with her! That is the future toward which I look; that is the only vengeance I will take, the only vengeance Evelyn can demand if she is the angel we believe her. I will write to Felix to-morrow.
* * * * *
I have not written Felix. I had not the courage.
* * * * *
I have had a dream. I thought I saw the meeting of my father with the white shade of Evelyn in the unimaginable recesses of that world to which both have gone. Strange horrors, stranger glories met as their separate paths crossed, and when the two forms had greeted and parted, a line of light followed the footsteps of the one and a trail of gloom those of the other. As their ways divided, I heard my father cry:
"There is no spot on your garments, Evelyn. Can it be that the wrongs of earth are forgotten here? That mortals remember what the angels forget, and that our revenge is late for one so blessed?"
I did not hear the answer, for I woke; but the echo of those words has rung in my ears all day. "Is our revenge late for one so blessed?"
* * * * *
I have summoned up courage. Felix has been here again, and the truth has at last been spoken between us. I had been pressing Eva to name our wedding day, and we were all standing—that is, John Poindexter, my dear girl, and myself—in the glare of the drawing-room lights, when I heard a groan, too faint for other ears to catch, followed by a light fall from the window overlooking the garden. It was Felix. He had been watching us, had seen my love, heard me talk of marriage, and must now be in the grounds in open frenzy, or secret satisfaction, it was hard to tell which. Determined to know, determined to speak, I excused myself on some hurried plea, and searched the paths he knew as well as I. At last I came upon him. He was standing near an old dial, where he had more than once seen Eva and me together. He was very pale, deathly pale, it seemed to me, in the faint starlight shining upon that open place; but he greeted me as usual very quietly and with no surprise, almost, in fact, as if he knew I would recognize his presence and follow him.
"You are playing your role well," said he; "too well. What was that I heard about your marrying?"
The time had come. I was determined to meet it with a man's courage. But I found it hard. Felix is no easy man to cross, even in small things, and this thing is his life, nay, more—his past, present, and future existence.
I do not know who spoke first. There was some stammering, a few broken words; then I heard myself saying distinctly, and with a certain hard emphasis born of the restraint I put upon myself:
"I love her! I want to marry her. You must allow this. Then——"
I could not proceed. I felt the shock he had received almost as if it had been communicated to me by contact. Something that was not of the earth seemed to pass between us, and I remember raising my hand as if to shield my face. And then, whether it was the blowing aside of some branches which kept the moonlight from us, or because my eyesight was made clearer by my emotion, I caught one glimpse of his face and became conscious of a great suffering, which at first seemed the wrenching of my own heart, but in another moment impressed itself upon me as that of his, Felix's.
I stood appalled.
My weakness had uprooted the one hope of his life, or so I thought; and that he expressed this by silence made my heart yearn toward him for the first time since I recognized him as my brother. I tried to stammer some excuse. I was glad when the darkness fell again, for the sight of his bowed head and set features was insupportable to me. It seemed to make it easier for me to talk; for me to dilate upon the purity, the goodness which had robbed me of my heart in spite of myself. My heart! It seemed a strange word to pass between us two in reference to a Poindexter, but it was the only one capable of expressing the feeling I had for this young girl. At last, driven to frenzy by his continued silence, which had something strangely moving in it, I cried:
"You have never loved a woman, Felix. You do not know what the passion is when it seizes upon a man jaded with the hollow pleasures of an irresponsible life. You cannot judge; therefore you cannot excuse. You are made of iron——"
"Hush!" It was the first word he had spoken since I had opened my heart to him. "You do not know what you are saying, Thomas. Like all egotists, you think yourself alone in experience and suffering. Will you think so when I tell you that there was a time in my life when I did not sleep for weeks; when the earth, the air, yes, and the heavens were full of nothing but her name, her face, her voice? When to have held her in my arms, to have breathed into her ear one word of love, to have felt her cheek fall against mine in confidence, in passion, in hope, would have been to me the heaven which would have driven the devils from my soul forever? Thomas, will you believe I do not know the uttermost of all you are experiencing, when I here declare to you that there has been an hour in my life when, if I had felt she could have been brought to love me, I would have sacrificed Evelyn, my own soul, our father's hope, John Poindexter's punishment, and become the weak thing you are to-day, and gloried in it, I, Felix Cadwalader, the man of iron, who has never been known to falter? But, Thomas, I overcame that feeling. I crushed down that love, and I call upon you to do the same. You may marry her, but——"
What stopped him? His own heart or my own impetuosity? Both, perhaps, for at that moment I fell at his feet, and seizing his hand, kissed it as I might a woman's. He seemed to grow cold and stiff under this embrace, which showed both the delirium I was laboring under and the relief I had gotten from his words. When he withdrew his hand, I feel that my doom was about to be spoken, and I was not wrong. It came in these words:
"Thomas, I have yielded to your importunity and granted you the satisfaction which under the same circumstances I would have denied myself. But it has not made me less hard toward you; indeed, the steel with which you say my heart is bound seems tightening about it, as if the momentary weakness in which I have indulged called for revenge. Thomas, go on your way; make the girl your wife—I had rather you would, since she is—what she is—but after she has taken your name, after she believes herself secure in her honorable position and your love, then you are to remember our compact and your oath—back upon John Poindexter's care she is to be thrown, shortly, curtly, without explanation or excuse; and if it costs you your life, you are to stand firm in this attitude, using but one weapon in the struggle which may open between you and her father, and that is, your name of Cadwalader. You will not need any other. Thomas, do you swear to this? Or must I direct my own power against Eva Poindexter, and, by telling her your motive in courting her, make her hate you forever?"
"I will swear," I cried, overpowered by the alternative with which he threatened me. "Give me the bliss of calling her mine, and I will follow your wishes in all that concerns us thereafter."
"You will?" There was a sinister tone in this ejaculation that gave a shock to my momentary complacency. But we are so made that an anticipated evil affects us less than an immediate one; and remembering that weeks must yet elapse, during which he or John Poindexter or even myself might die, I said nothing, and he went icily on:
"I give you two months, alone and untrammelled. Then you are to bring your bride to my house, there to hear my final decision. There is to be no departure from this course. I shall expect you, Thomas; you and her. You can say that you are going to make her acquainted with your brother."
"I will be there," I murmured, feeling a greater oppression than when I took the oath at my father's death-bed. "I will be there."
There was no answer. While I was repeating those four words, Felix vanished.
* * * * *
Have a fresh draft made. I need cigars, clothes, and—a wedding ring. But no, let me stop short there. We will be married without one, unless you force it upon us. Eva's color is blue.
Very truly, Thomas.
To-day I wrote again to Felix. He is at home, must be, for I have neither seen nor felt his presence since that fateful night. What did I write? I don't remember. I seem to be living in a dream. Everything is confused about me but Eva's face, Eva's smile. They are blissfully clear. Sometimes I wish they were not. Were they confused amid these shadows, I might have stronger hope of keeping my word to Felix. Now, I shall never keep it. Eva once my wife, separation between us will become impossible. John Poindexter is ill.
* * * * *
Congratulations: visits from my neighbors; all the eclat we could wish or a true lover hate. The ring you sent fits as if made for her. I am called in all directions by a thousand duties. I am on exhibition, and every one's curiosity must be satisfied.
In haste, THOMAS.
The wedding is postponed. John Poindexter is very ill. Pray God, Felix hears nothing of this. He would come here; he would confront his enemy on his bed of sickness. He would denounce him, and Eva would be lost to me.
* * * * *
Eva is not pleased with the arrangements which have been made for our wedding. John Poindexter likes show; she does not. Which will carry the day?
Yours aff., THOMAS.
Mr. Poindexter is better, but our plans will have to be altered. We now think we will be married quietly, possibly in New York.
* * * * *
A compromise has been effected. The wedding will be a quiet one, but not celebrated here. As you cannot wish to attend it, I will not mention the place or hour of my marriage, only say that on September 27th at 4 P. M. you may expect my wife and myself at your house.
We have decided to be married in New York. Mr. Poindexter needs the change, and Eva and I are delighted at the prospect of a private wedding. Then we will be near Felix, but not to subject ourselves to his will. Oh, no!
* * * * *
Married! She is mine. And now to confront Felix with my determination to hold on to my happiness. How I love her, and how I pity him! John Poindexter's wickedness is forgotten, Evelyn but a fading memory. The whole world seems to hold but three persons—Eva, Felix, and myself. How will it end? We meet at his home to-morrow.
Meanwhile there was another secret struggle going on in the depth of a nature from which all sympathy was excluded both by the temperament of the person concerned and the circumstances surrounding him.
I can but hint at it. Some tragedies lie beyond the ken of man, and this one we can but gather from stray scraps of torn-up letters addressed to no one and betraying their authorship only through the writer's hand. They were found long after the mystery of Felix Cadwalader's death had been fully accounted for, tucked away under the flooring of Bartow's room. Where or how procured by him, who can tell?
* * * * *
"I have seen Eva Poindexter again, and heaven and hell have contended for me ever since. Eva! Eva! the girl I thought of only as our prey. The girl I have given to my brother. She is too lovely for him: she is too lovely for any man unless it be one who has never before thrilled to any woman's voice, or seen a face that could move his passions or awaken his affection. Is it love I feel? Can I, Felix, who have had but one thought, known but one enthusiasm, retain in this breast of iron a spot however secret, however small, which any woman, least of all his daughter, could reach? Never! I am the prey of frenzy or the butt of devils. Yet only the inhabitants of a more celestial sphere brighten around me when I think of those half-raised eyes, those delicately parted lips, so devoid of guile, that innocent bearing, and the divine tenderness, mingled with strength, by which she commands admiration and awakens love. I must fly. I must never see her again. Thomas's purpose is steady. He must never see that mine rocks like an idol smitten by a thunderbolt.
"If Thomas had not been reared in Paris, he too—But I am the only weak one. Curses on my——
"Did I say I would fly? I cannot, not yet. One more glimpse of her face, if only to satisfy myself that I have reason for this madness. Perhaps I was but startled yesterday to find a celestial loveliness where I expected to encounter pallid inanity. If my emotion is due to my own weakness rather than to her superiority, I had better recognize my folly before it proves my destruction.
I will stay and——
Thomas will not, shall not——
hate, hate for Thom——
"My self-esteem is restored. I have seen her again—him—they were together—there was true love in his eye—how could I expect him not to love her—and I was able to hide my anguish and impose his duty on him. She loves him—or he thinks so—and the work goes on. But I will not stay to watch its accomplishment. No, no.
"I told him my story to-night, under the guise of a past experience. Oh, the devils must laugh at us men! They have reason to. Sometimes I wonder if my father in the clearness of his new vision does not join them in their mirth.
"Home with my unhappy secret! Home, where nothing comes to distract me from my gnawing griefs and almost intolerable thoughts. I walk the floors. I cry aloud her name. I cry it even under the portrait of Evelyn. There are moments when I am tempted to write to Thomas—to forbid him——
"Eva! Eva! Eva! Every fibre in my miserable body utters the one word. But no man shall ever know. Thomas shall never know how the thought of her fills my days and nights, making my life a torment and the future——
"I wait for his letters (scanty they are and cold) as the doomed criminal awaits his executioner. Does she really love him? Or will that exquisite, that soulful nature call for a stronger mate, a more concentrated temperament, a—a——
"I thought I saw in one of my dark hours my father rising up from his grave to curse me. Oh! he might curse on if——