CHAPTER XIJAMES QUINLAN
BENNET CULLEN was a hearty young man who considered that whenever he had something particularly difficult to do with anybody, it always made matters easier to give that person a good dinner; and in his cousin "Eth" he found he had an obstinate proposition.
"About the last girl in the world to act up, I'd have said you were," he rebuked her, with a sense of personal injury in her action, as she and he always had been the best of friends. At his first acquaintance with this cousin, upon the occasion when his father and mother brought her back from France to Chicago, he had found that she was an unusual girl in being invariably able to take care of herself, was "game" for almost anything, never was fussy when accidents happened to her and yet never tried to be, or cared about being, a boy. Indeed, she thought girls had quite as good a time, and she played with Julia as much as with him.
When they were older and went out together to dances, Eth was a mighty good one to have in your party; she wasn't critical of you, like a sister; she looked awfully well and danced wonderfully; the best sort of men wanted to know her; and altogether it was pretty good to possess the proprietorship in her which went with the introduction of "my cousin." When confronted with the intricate inconsistencies of personal relations between people involved in the family quarrel, Ethel had consistently displayed what Bennet considered good sense.
Of course he had been aware since his boyhood that Ethel's father was at outs with his own father and with his grandfather; when he grew older, Bennet recognized that this estrangement was due to Philip Carew's squeamishness over something which he thought grandfather Cullen had done. Bennet himself had possessed enough energetic curiosity to ascertain that in his day grandfather must have—to employ Bennet's euphemism—"pulled his share of the rough stuff." But, most obviously, grandfather's day had passed; its evils, whatever they had been, were or ought to be interred, and certainly not dug up at this day to disturb the family's enjoyment of the great benefits which grandfather had won by what he had done, Bennet was finding his life altogether too easy and diverting not to be positively infuriated at finding Ethel trying to stir up excitement again when every one else was so conveniently "quieted down" about grandfather.
The private school on the north side, to which Bennet had been sent when a boy; the carefully chosen preparatory school in Connecticut, which he had next attended, and finally Yale had turned him out a well-mannered, well-appearing, physically vigorous and stubborn-willed young man, aware of many satisfactions in his life and disturbed by no consciousness of serious faults. He had not been graduated from Yale, having been only in his junior year when the American declaration of war called him, together with all the rest of the able-bodied boys of his class, into a military training camp. By quick thinking, clear speaking, straight standing and uncritical acceptance of orders given, he won a commission as lieutenant of artillery only to find himself fated, for his efficiency in imparting mechanical details to others, to remain on this side training successive drafts. At the end of the war and upon his release from service, he had decided against reëntering the university. He had not gone to college for the sake of instruction, and he never had considered a college course as having the least bearing upon the real business of life, except as it made him friends. He had gone to Yale to be able to speak of himself as a Yale man, and having won that prerogative and having ended his course for an honorable reason, he had entered his father's office at a most interesting and profitable time. For the Cullens dealt in raw materials, and there never was a time when raw materials were so demanded and when they commanded such prices.
It made Bennet particularly tired, when the government by its absurd taxes and labor by its outrageous demands were making it as hard as possible for his father and himself to do business, to have Ethel come along and turn up the family trouble again and perhaps start something she couldn't stop. As she had got herself into such a riot with grandfather that she wouldn't even go to his father's home, he'd take her out to dinner.
Ethel was willing to go; indeed, when she thought it over, she preferred to talk to Bennet in some public place rather than at his father's home or here at the house on Scott Street. Bennet and she had got along well largely because, from childhood, they had been frank with each other. She wanted to tell him fairly of the reasons for her riot with their grandfather; but if she discussed the affair here with Bennet, she was sure to involve herself in another tumult. She had not admitted to herself the full effect upon her of the conflicts at St. Florentin until she found how she dreaded repeating the ordeal with her uncle or with her cousin.
"We'll go to the Blackstone?" Bennet invited. "Julia straggles in there with some people to-night, I think I recall."
He meant that they would be chaperoned in the same dining room by his sister and her party; but Ethel did not require that. Of course she was going out with her cousin, and every one who knew her would know him; but if he were not her cousin, she was too good a Westerner to hesitate about going to dinner with him.
"I'll have to wear my suit," was all she said.
At a table for two in the warm, gay, east dining room of the Blackstone, beside a window overlooking the lighted avenue, she let Bennet order his usual, well-selected and generous dinner. She was very hungry and relaxed; as some time to-morrow she must submit herself again to the strain of antagonism to those dearest to her here, at the bidding which had come from those dearer to her yet, who were dead; but for this hour it was very agreeable to forget quarrels of every sort and just have a good dinner, as Bennet was insisting, and to talk to him about their old trifles and listen to the lively, new music.
"You look rather like yourself now," Bennet praised her proudly when she smiled at something he said; he glanced from her to the people at the surrounding tables, and he found many gazing toward his table as people always did when he had "Eth" with him. "Galli-Curci's singing to-night, I seem to recall. Rigoletto or some such happy little bit's on. Mother's giving a treat to a lot of returned canteeners in our cage; but we can find seats in somebody's box, if you care 'bout hearing Galli. Do you?" he asked as eight o'clock drew near.
Ethel shook her head. Bennet was forming the hope that his dinner had dispelled her troubles, and she would now simply forget them. They had finished dessert and both were taking black coffee. Julia and her party either had not come to the hotel at all or were in another dining room; Bennet did not bother to look them up. Several acquaintances, on their way to and from other tables, had halted to say a few words to Ethel; and a woman in the last party to pass had asked Bennet:
"Tell me, you've not yet any positive word of the fate of Mrs. Oliver Cullen?"
"Nothing really positive," Bennet had replied.
The big room was clearing as groups departed for the opera; the nearest bles all were deserted. Bennet paid his check and lit a cigarette; he leaned easily upon the table.
"Well, what do you want to do now, Eth—talk?"
"Yes," she said.
Here and there she noticed uniformed men and, out upon the street, some one passed with a freeness in his step which reminded her of Barney Loutrelle. Bennet was not at all like Barney. They were nearly the same height, but Bennet was heavily built; his hands naturally were broader, though they showed no traces of long usage to manual work which Barney's hands retained. Physically, the two young men were very unlike, and in spirit, oh, totally different. Bennet never had known anything but satisfactions with life, with himself, with his situation in the world; Bennet had never known what it was to want and to have to strive with all your will and strength.
Ethel flushed warmly, catching herself at this comparison; she could not remember ever having so analyzed a man in reference to another before.
"Well," Bennet said suddenly; and his habit of thus starting a sentence made her see in him a previously unmarked likeness to their grandfather, accentuated when Bennet gazed at her from across the table and hunched his chair slightly forward. "Tell me what our grandfather did to you this time besides not giving you the money, Eth."
Bennet had known that she had gone to St. Florentin for money; and she had informed him at Scott Street that she had not obtained it.
"Nothing to me, Ben," she said.
"What did he do, then?"
How could she tell him here? Not that any one need overhear them; for even the servants had withdrawn to a distance. Not that her statement would be too great a shock to him; he would not believe it. She could not make him credit it—so she was beginning to feel—because subtly it all had been becoming incredible to herself. At St. Florentin, seeing a solitary, wilful old man dwelling in exile with his wife and served by Miss Platt, her husband, and a couple of Indians, it had been possible to comprehend how her grandfather, threatened by the arrival of some one who sought Barney Loutrelle at Resurrection Rock, had dispatched Kincheloe to prevent the meeting. But in Chicago the whole air was different; the demeanor of hotel people and servants toward a grandson and a granddaughter of Lucas Cullen; the eagerness of many people to speak to them and to advertise acquaintance with the family; such a trifle, indeed, as Bennet's careless assurance that they might go without tickets to the opera and, finding the family box occupied, might drop in upon "somebody's" box; all this showed the family of Lucas Cullen too surely established in the fabric of society and too powerful to be imagined as likely to be endangered, or even seriously disturbed, by any such event as the arrival of an unknown young man at a rock in Lake Huron.
The circumstances connected with Barney's appearance also lost credence here,—those strange letters from London which foretold so truly Bagley's and Ethel's presence at Resurrection Rock. In the north, people were ready to hear anything strange about the Rock; but here,—Ethel looked out at the motor cars passing on Michigan Avenue, at the long lines of the boulevard lights, at the many, matter-of-fact, self-absorbed people about; and she remained silent. The letter which had been awaiting her on Scott Street was as strange as the rest; but she decided to start with that.
"Do you know any one named Quinlan?" she asked.
"Old Jim Quinlan? Surely."
"James was the name," Ethel said, trying not to betray a start. "Who is he?"
"Funny old codger," Bennet informed. "Father used to have him about the south side yards."
"You employed him?"
"When he condescended to work, we did. Father told our foreman to take him on for old time's sake."
"He was with grandfather years ago."
"Oh; was there some one connected with him named Robert?" Ethel asked.
"Bob Quinlan? He was his grandson."
"Was?" Ethel repeated. "He's dead?"
"Shot down in flames near Cambrai, he was," Bennet said. "He got into aviation as observer and machine gunner. Papers had something about him, the same week Quentin Roosevelt went. Old Jim—I hear he went sort of nutty not long afterwards. It seemed that Bob was all he had left. Lost most of the rest of his family in disasters, some one said; then the war took Bob. We've the gold star for Bob at our offices now; just the other day father O.K'ed a design for our permanent memorial with his name on it. He worked for us a while, you see. What did you hear about the Quinlans?"
"Where's James Quinlan living now, Ben?"
"We don't know. Father was trying to find him just about Christmas. In connection with that memorial, I think. No; it was money—Bob's government insurance which was coming to Jim. That was it," Bennet corrected positively. "He'd been living on Fifty-seventh Street near Prairie—rented a room in a flat—and he'd left a couple of days before Christmas. Just packed up his valise and moved, giving no explanation. The way the people in the flat told it; we didn't consider anything in particular had happened to him; but we're on the general lookout for him. What do you know about him?" Bennet demanded again.
"How long ago was he associated with grandfather?" Ethel returned. "Where was it?"
"Why, back in the old pine days," Bennet replied impatiently. "Old Jim was head sawyer of one of grandfather's mills in the lower peninsula before he went up across the Straits. Lost his fingers then; has only half his fingers on his right hand. Why?"
Ethel sat back in her chair, playing nervously with her coffee spoon and gazing down. She had supposed herself prepared to discover that the statements in Huston Adley's astonishing letter had substance; nevertheless the completeness of this verification upset her. There was not only a James Quinlan who had been associated with her grandfather; but he had possessed a Robert, very dear to him, who recently had died; and James Quinlan's knowledge of Lucas Cullen went back to the epoch of the cut of the white pine in the lower peninsula,—the years of the tall trees, mentioned by her grandmother, when other men were burning the timber and slashing it, and doing everything to get it out of the way, and Lucas Cullen had arrived in Michigan, a young man, and turned the trees into gold.
"I came back here because—" Ethel began, looking steadily at her cousin. "The trouble I had with grandfather at St. Florentin, Ben," she made another start, "was over a man whom Kincheloe killed on Resurrection Rock."
"What?" Bennet said, leaning forward and staring at her as though he had not heard aright. "What did you say?"
"Kincheloe killed a man on Resurrection Rock—in the house there, Ben—day before yesterday; or during the night."
Verification of the existence of a James Quinlan and of a Robert on the other side of the veil had restored Ethel's confidence in her convictions of what had happened at St. Florentin; yet she realized that since she had once lost courage here in the gay hotel dining room overlooking the lighted, thronged boulevard, she might weaken again; so she plunged into facts, not at all as she had planned, but so as to commit her to the telling through to the end.
"Killed a man?" her cousin was repeating in a whisper, looking about swiftly and then bending further across the table. "You mean accidentally?"
"No; no, I don't think Ben."
"Then what do you mean?"
"He killed him; killed him, I think."
"You mean—murdered him?"
"Oh, Ben, I don't know; but I'm afraid so!"
"Miss Platt's husband murdered—killed some one!" Bennet repeated, himself now refusing the word he had tried to force from Ethel.
His incredulity was expressed in a manner so like that which his grandfather had feigned that Ethel jerked in a spasm of recollection of the struggle at St. Florentin.
"Yes, Ben," she said.
"Good Lord, he did; why?"
"I don't know."
"Who'd he kill—an Indian?"
"No; I don't know."
"What do you know then?" Bennet demanded irritably, but he still was whispering cautiously, and he glanced frequently about to make sure that no one was near enough to overhear. "You said you came back here because—that is, your trouble with grandfather was over a man Kincheloe killed. How'd that send you back or get you in wrong with grandfather?"
"Because grandfather was in it too, Ben."
"In it—grandfather? What do you mean? He was in what?"
"The killing of the man, Ben."
"The one killed on the Rock."
"But you said Kincheloe did that."
"He did; but for grandfather."
"What—what the devil—" Bennet scolded. He glanced about and shifted his feet as though to rise. If Ethel were going to say things like that, he thought that this was no place to say them; but his impatience to hear her foolishness and to combat her overcame his dread of being overheard. He sat down in his chair but bent close to her.
"Give me all of this," he commanded. "Straight."
So she told him quietly and without passion as "straight" as she could. She did not repeat to him the details of Barney's intimate confidences; but she told him about the manner of meeting Barney and their walk and talk together, and their finding the traces of the man who had slept in the shack opposite Rest Cabin; she told how Barney went to the Rock and how their grandfather watched him; she reported how Bagley had been waiting for Barney, what Bagley had done and what she, herself, had witnessed during the night at St. Florentin; she related how she followed Kincheloe in the morning, and how he turned back, and how Asa and she went to the Rock, and how she returned and accused their grandfather and he had called Barney Loutrelle and she had gone with Barney.
At the beginning she felt that Bennet, if not sympathetic, was not hostile toward her. He interrupted her abruptly several times, demanding that she make certain points clearer; then he angered and several times seemed about to forbid her to go on; but, after glancing about and observing that no one seemed to suspect that they were engrossed in anything extraordinary, he bade her proceed. She omitted mention of her own letter from Huston Adley, as she had refrained from speaking of the supernatural portions of Barney's letters; and Bennet seemed to have forgotten her questions about Quinlan which had started their talk.
"You say you accused grandfather," he assailed her hotly, when she had finished, "of killing this Loutrelle pick-up of yours!"
"I told him I believed Kincheloe had done it and that he knew about it; and he did, Ben!"
"But you just said he had Loutrelle at the house waiting for you, and Loutrelle didn't even know anything had happened."
"That's true. I said I was mistaken. It wasn't Barney; it was—"
"Huh! you call him Barney, do you?"
"No; not to him," she went hot with confusion.
"But to yourself, I see. Well, go on."
"It was some one else they killed, Ben."
"Who do you mean by they?"
"I'd not say that again to any one, if I were you, Ethel. I'd not even think it to myself again," he warned her unpleasantly. He had dropped entirely his familiar, fond "Eth." "You must be crazy."
"You weren't there, Ben."
"You—you fool," he said to her in pitying disgust. "You little fool."
She sat back, quite white and quivering under the constraint of controlling herself against Bennet's anger. Only for emotional moments had she been able to imagine Bennet taking sides with her; yet she was not sorry that she had told him. There would have been something unfair—something partaking of the smug—in assuming that her cousin, knowing the same facts as herself, would take an opposite attitude. Her grandfather also was his, and Bennet had the right to learn from her exactly what she had discovered. But Bennet solved his problem simply by refusing to believe her. He was not fool enough to credit such craziness, fool meaning a person who would madly deprive himself of the visible advantages of remaining a grandchild in favor with Lucas Cullen. But it was not sufficient himself to refrain from such madness; if he let Ethel run around with such ideas, anything might happen.
"You've told any of that stuff before, Ethel?" he challenged nervously, when this fear occurred to him.
"I've told you what I said to grandfather and grandmother and Miss Platt."
"I didn't mean them; how about people down here?"
"I've only seen Ira Ruggers and Mrs. Wain."
"Good Lord, you haven't told her?"
"Of course not."
"Oh, I couldn't know what you'd do now. How about this Barney friend of yours; what'll he do? What's he doing now?"
"He stayed there."
"At the Rock or Wheedon's. I haven't heard yet."
"Oh; who was going to write you about him? Grandfather?"
"No," Ethel said, warming throughout. "He was."
"What? He's writing you?"
"And I'm writing him!" she confessed proudly. "We're doing this together; he's staying there to find out who was killed at the Rock and why; and I came down here for the same reason."
Bennet sat back, dazed. "You met him, you said, that morning on the train. You picked him up in the station at Escanaba; and you've—" Bennet was unable to proceed.
Ethel, too, was silent. She had not intended to divulge the plan upon which Barney and she had agreed; she had not intended to betray, as she had, her own feeling for Barney. Indeed, she had not been aware herself just what her feeling had become.
"He's not like your friends," she suddenly defended Barney belligerently. "He's not like—any one else in the world."
Bennet was able only to look his disgust; then he asked, "Since you're working this so much together, I suppose he wouldn't go to the local police—the sheriff, up there, isn't it—without letting you know."
"No; I don't think he would."
"Then maybe there's time to control him."
"Control him how?"
"Shut him up, of course."
"Ben, if it's all my foolishness, what are you afraid of?"
"Afraid?" Bennet repeated. "Me? I'm afraid of nothing but the rotten low slander you'd like to lay on grandfather; you and your pick-up friend. I'd think you could see. Grandfather'll punish him and you, too, if you try it; but do you think you're doing any good to the family? Oh, you make tired. Now how can I get at this Loutrelle friend of yours?"
"I think," Ethel said, rising, "I'll go home now, please, Ben."
And as she remained standing, he arose too, perforce, and escorted her from the room.
"I'll order a taxi and go home alone," she decided, when they had their coats and were in the lobby.
"Home?" he challenged.
"To cousin Agnes's."
"No, you won't. I'll take you up to our house and see if mother can get some sense into you," he said with as much force and acerbity as the nearness of other people permitted. "Wait here; I'll have my car in a minute."
But he had to cross the street to get it; and when he reëntered the hotel she was gone. His first impulse was to follow her immediately to the house on Scott Street; his second was to drive so rapidly that he would pass her taxi and be waiting for her when she arrived; but he thought better of both plans. He remained downtown, calling Oliver's number after a while to learn that Ethel had arrived; then he dropped in at the opera, where he found his sister Julia and informed her that Ethel was in the city and he'd taken her to dinner. He saw his mother with her party of canteeners, but he only nodded to her.
It was while he was moodily sitting in the box with Julia's friends and pretending to be appreciative of Galli-Curci's "Caro Nome" that he recollected how Ethel had started to talk by inquiring about James Quinlan and Bob; and he wondered what place they had in the crazy business which Ethel had stirred up. His father—so Bennet assured himself—had been making his recent efforts to locate old Jim only because of that government insurance money; yet Bennet could not help thinking that his father had been more concerned in old Jim's whereabouts than one would have expected. Recollections of his father's anxiety disturbed Bennet so that he shifted restlessly in his seat and applauded Galli-Curci automatically while staring past her with vacant eyes.
Abruptly he began matching up observations of his own with those which Ethel had related to him, and he remembered that his father had seemed to him decidedly on edge over nothing a few days earlier; by reckoning, he discovered it was the same day upon which Ethel had found their grandfather so upset and upon which his father—so Ethel said—had sent that telegram to St. Florentin. Sitting in the dimly lit auditorium while the singers were going through the violent scenes with Sparafucile, Bennet found it annoyingly easy to visualize his grandfather going about the lower floor of the big house at St. Florentin with a loaded rifle under his arm and waiting for Kincheloe who was returning with the dogs, one of which had blood frozen in his hair. Ethel had related to Bennet that their grandfather had said of this blood, "Lad caught a fox"; but Bennet knew that his grandfather had not been waiting in the house with a loaded gun to guard against the attack of a fox.
Bennet did not doubt the exact truth of incidents which Ethel stated that she actually saw; but he had no patience with what she "supposed"; and he considered her conclusions absolutely lunatic. Yet the difficulty of supplying himself with more satisfying conclusions from the same facts kept him disturbed; when he returned home at midnight and saw that the light was still burning in his father's room, he went to the door and knocked.