The Circular Study, by Anna Katherine Green

Chapter 3

Eva.

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.

FIRST LETTER.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

FIRST ENTRY.

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.

LETTER II.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

ENTRY II.

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 ——

LETTER III.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

ENTRY III.

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?

LETTER IV.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

ENTRY IV.

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.

LETTER V.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

ENTRY V.

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.

ENTRY VI.

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.

LETTER VI.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

ENTRY VII.

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.

LETTER VII.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

Aff., THOMAS.

ENTRY VIII.

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?

LETTER VIII.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

Yours, THOMAS.

ENTRY IX.

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!

ENTRY X.

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.

ENTRY XI.

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.

LETTER IX.

DEAR FELIX:

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?

Aff., THOMAS.

ENTRY XII.

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?

LETTER X.

DEAR FELIX:

Miss Poindexter has told me unreservedly that she cares for me. Are you satisfied with me now?

In haste, THOMAS.

ENTRY XIII.

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.

ENTRY XIV.

I have not written Felix. I had not the courage.

ENTRY XV.

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?”

ENTRY XVI.

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 rôle 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.

LETTER XI.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

ENTRY XVII.

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.

LETTER XII.

DEAR FELIX:

Congratulations: visits from my neighbors; all the éclat 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.

ENTRY XVIII.

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.

LETTER XIII.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

ENTRY XIX.

Mr. Poindexter is better, but our plans will have to be altered. We now think we will be married quietly, possibly in New York.

LETTER XIV.

DEAR FELIX:

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.

Aff., THOMAS.

ENTRY XX.

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!

ENTRY XXI.

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.

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