The Circular Study, by Anna Katherine Green

Chapter 13

Despair.

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?”

“No, sir.”

“Or understand the mystery of the colored lights?”

“No, sir.”

“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.”

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