The Circular Study, by Anna Katherine Green

Chapter 2

The Oath.

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 rôle 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.

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