CHAPTER XIIINFORMATION AND ALARMS
LUCAS CULLEN, Junior, had been at a large business "reconstruction" dinner that evening while his wife was entertaining her canteeners at Rigoletto; he had been one of the speakers. He ate little and drank not at all when he was to speak; but he usually drank after his speech, especially if it were a success, as it almost always was. Bennet thought, when he entered his father's room, that this night's speech had gone well. His father's man had removed Lucas's dinner clothes and handed him a dressing gown. Lucas dismissed the man when he saw his son, and he belted the dressing gown carefully about him. Lucas was shorter than his father by almost two inches but taller than his son; he had too much stomach, when one saw him without trousers and waistcoat; but he did not appear lacking in health. Indeed, vigor distinguished him only less than, a generation ago, it had marked his father. And if the younger Lucas were less rugged, yet he was a better looking man, with features which were firm and forceful enough without being belligerent or overriding; for the younger Lucas had begun to do business about the time when it ceased to be advisable for even the most masterful man to openly override his competitors and damn and defy the public. Old Lucas called his son a trimmer and said that young Lucas never would have put through, by his methods, what his father had done. This was true; and young Lucas withheld the obvious rejoinder that his father's methods would instantly start Federal prosecutions now. Lucas, Junior, continued to trim to the times net, who had been long enough in the offices to have some insight into the Cullen methods, wished that his father would not "guff" the public quite so hard. But his father undeniably was an influential man; and Bennet admired him immensely.
"Anything important bothering you, boy?" Lucas asked cordially.
Bennet did not mean to betray that he was worrying; he had planned only to start a chat with his father, as he frequently did when they both were about late at night and neither sleepy. Then he had meant to mention Ethel casually; but now he could not.
"Ethel came back to town this afternoon, father," he said.
"Yes," Lucas said. "You saw her? Where's she staying?"
Bennet informed him. "She's got herself in no end of a row with grandfather," he added.
"Yes," Lucas said again. "Your grandfather sent down a letter on the train she took. I found it here to-night."
Bennet, following his glance, observed an envelope with a special delivery stamp on his father's dressing stand. "Oh, then he told you all about the row."
"She must have gone loony, father. I couldn't do anything with her. I was thinking if you or mother would send for her or go to see her to-morrow morning, you could knock some sense into her."
"Your mother," Lucas said, "will telephone Ethel in the morning."
"That's good, father."
"That all, boy?"
"Yes," Bennet said.
"Good night, boy."
But Bennet wanted to know something more; he delayed, thinking how to lead to it indirectly, until his hesitation obliged him to ask outright:
"Father, what's Jim Quinlan to do in this?" And for the first time in his life, Bennet saw his father start like an ordinary man who may be frightened. Very quickly his father recovered and was Lucas Cullen, Junior, once more.
"Who said Jim Quinlan had?" he asked calmly.
"What did she say?'
"Why, she really only asked about a James Quinlan, if we employed one, father. She didn't seem to know anything concerning him but—" At his father's request, Bennet repeated just about what Ethel had said.
"That's all right," Lucas said finally. "Now go on to bed, boy."
Bennet looked up at his father, who somehow seemed to have got a little disheveled while they were talking; probably his thick, black hair had been a little mussed before, but Bennet had not noticed it; and it seemed to him that his father's eyes were duller. Bennet returned to his own room, rather miserably, and conscious that affairs in his family, which had seemed so serene only a few hours ago, had suddenly taken a turn for the perilous; with the bitter perverseness of youth suddenly disturbed in the unthreatened enjoyment of ease and advantage, he blamed not the cause of the danger but its discoverer. Indignantly he assailed Ethel, his dearest cousin. She was a wild, crazy idiot to go poking into "things." He worked himself into such a fever about it that, long after opening his windows and getting into bed, he lay tossing and wide awake.
His father's family had moved, a few years before, to one of those new apartments occupying an entire floor of a great residence building erected upon the recently made land famous locally as "Cap Streeter's deestrick of Lake Michigan." Not many years ago, the land was only a sand bar off the fashionable north shore of the city, when the picturesque argosy of the peppery captain grounded upon the bar, and Cap Streeter claimed it his own by right of discovery and fortified and defended it. But his defense—both by rifle and by law—failed; the city filled out to the bar and beyond it, extending the land like a cape into the lake; the Shore Drive now runs about the cape, and it is as fashionable to live upon it as anywhere in Chicago.
Bennet's room had a window to the north, looking up the lake, and through the window now was blowing the cold, clean air from the water and ice and the snow-clad shores of northern Michigan. It made Bennet think, when he did not want to, of his grandfather living far up the water past the other end of the lake in his lonely house on the shore opposite that always strange—and now dangerous—Resurrection Rock. It made him think of the Michigan woodland, cleared now of the old, tall trees from which the family wealth had come. His grandfather—Ethel believed—had "done" something in the time of the felling of the tall white pines. Of course their grandfather had done something; Bennet did not deny the probability of that. But it was all over now. Maybe not quite all over; for consequences sometimes hang on remarkably; but with a little patience and a little tolerance—Bennet thought—everything would come out clean and all right. The only requirement was to shut up "Eth" and that pick-up friend of hers, Barney Loutrelle.
"Oh, damn him!" Bennet suddenly sat upright in bed when he thought about Barney Loutrelle knowing as much as Ethel and going about loose up near St. Florentin. He had meant to mention Loutrelle to his father and discuss what was to be done about him; but Bennet had been too disturbed following his mention of Jim Quinlan. For Bennet then had realized that his father must be linked with his grandfather in the knowledge of the unfortunate occurrence in the past which still held power to upset the family. Bennet had believed—and he had liked to believe—that his father had been as much out of it as he himself had been kept. But really the fact made no difference; for the thing was past and done and would remain done if Ethel could be controlled and something immediate and adequate said to Barney Loutrelle.
Bennet's mother undertook the task of controlling Ethel the next morning; but though Myra called at Scott Street as early as her dignity permitted, Ethel already was gone. Mrs. Wain knew only that she had departed without expectation of returning before evening.
Ethel had journeyed by street car to Fifty-seventh Street where, after some difficulty, she located the apartment at which James Quinlan had roomed. The woman who had looked after him proved to be wholly ignorant of, and not exceedingly interested in Quinlan's whereabouts and his reasons for leaving; the date of his departure had been December twenty-fourth. Ethel returned uptown and called at the newspaper offices, where she found that she had no response to her advertisements for Bagley; so she went back to Scott Street late in the afternoon and there met her aunt upon Myra's third attempt to find her. She declined firmly, but without discussion, aunt Myra's cordial invitation to stay with the family on the outer Drive.
Before writing to Barney that night, Ethel reread—as many times during the day she had already done—the letter from Huston Adley. Her immediate course of action had become quite plain to her; yet she reconsidered thoughtfully before recording her purpose.
"My dear Mr. Loutrelle," she addressed Barney. "Last night I had a remarkable experience—" and she detailed how she had confirmed, through her cousin, the existence of James Quinlan and Robert and the history of James Quinlan's association with her grandfather and his recent disappearance.
I gained really very little more to-day, she continued, and except as I learn incidents from my uncle or cousins, I do not think I am likely to get, in any ordinary way, anything more to help us, as Marcellus Clarke remains away and Bagley does not appear.
Besides, everything else seems secondary to the one certain thing which I should do; this is to try to speak with and to hear my Father.
I suppose I must seem stupid to you not to have thought of this much earlier, but the truth is I have been thinking about it a very great deal—too much, perhaps.
Before I met you and you told me of your experience with the Philip Carew who wished to speak with you, and before this letter about my father came to me, I might have visited a medium without thinking so much about what I was doing. I never did take part in a sitting—though of course I'd heard about them, and I've known plenty of people who did—because it seemed to me silly and making light of a sacred thing. It appeared to be playing a game of pretend-talking with dead people when you weren't. And the queer part about discovering that—sometimes, at least, as Huston Adley says—we here may communicate with our dead, is how much prepared you want to be before you assume to speak through the veil to some one you loved and whom you thought you could never speak to again.
Why, it would be nothing at all for me to find a medium and arrange a sitting and ask questions if I didn't believe that my father may be there to speak to me—and my mother, whom I can't remember at all—well, that makes me weak and reverent and almost too much afraid.
She had written thus far rapidly, and suddenly she stopped, glanced at her words with a gasp and started to crumple the page; but she did not.
I think, she continued after a minute, that though you had lost no one close to you, as I had my father, yet you knew this feeling. You, too, never knew your mother; and you told me how you walked the streets of London after that first successful sitting. Probably I shall have, like you, several unsatisfactory trials at first. Yet I may find my father the first time; they say he has been trying so hard to talk to me.
I want to be very sure that, when I try, it will be through some fitting person—that nothing about my approach to him will degrade him or lead me into danger of offending or losing or ever misunderstanding him. For that reason, I would be very glad if you could write me whatever you think will help me; you know how little I know about these matters; and I do not know whom to approach here. It would be far better for me if you could happen to be here. Oh, I am not asking that. But if you find you've—she crossed that out and substituted—we've nothing more to gain by your remaining near the Rock, come down here and I'll wait for you.
She had the letter mailed and, alone in her room, she consulted the Bible for further reference to communications from heaven. She found several in the gospel of St. Luke.
And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord—
Then she read how Zacharias doubted the angel.
And the angel, answering, said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee. And behold thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak . . . because thou believest not my words.
Then she read the passage where the messenger from heaven came to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks when Christ was born.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. . . .
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying . . .
It seemed, Ethel thought, that when there was sufficient occasion, the angels of their own accord appeared and not only succeeded in making their message heard but in striking dumb one who doubted them. For great events, the heavens opened; could it be true now that the gates of eternity might swing to and fro for the passing of souls earthward bound on trivial, mortal errands? Was she blasphemous to imagine that she might, of her own act, refer to her father in heaven the low, frightful deed which Merrill Kincheloe had performed on the Rock?
She was a little quivery as she undressed and made ready for bed. Mrs. Wain and the servants had retired earlier, and it was dark and quiet throughout the house. Ethel slipped a robe over her nightgown and turned on the hall lights and went into the room which had been her cousin Agnes's and switched on the light there. The idea had seized Ethel that cousin Agnes had returned to her room; of course she had not. Neither in the dark nor in the light was there manifestation of any sort; yet Ethel better understood Mrs. Wain's stubbornness in expecting Mrs. Oliver Cullen's return. It was difficult, when living among the articles chosen and arranged by Agnes and so expressive of her tireless vitality, to believe that she could have been completely obliterated. Cousin Oliver was different; one could accept an end to him.
Ethel remained a few minutes in Agnes's room, looking about. When a person suddenly relinquishes life, many activities related to that person automatically continue for a while; for instance, mail for the deceased is delivered. Agnes's business mail had been forwarded to the agent appointed to care for her affairs while the disposition of her holdings were being determined in court; but purely personal correspondence had come to this house, and Mrs. Wain had laid it upon the table in Agnes's room. Ethel glanced at this heap idly and turned over some of the envelopes, wondering who finally was to dispose of them.
There was a large, flat package from London, tied with cord and stamped with English postage; the censor had opened it, sealed it again and sent it on. The paper bore the legend, "Photographs."
Perhaps only because it was from London, and so much of deep interest to Ethel had come by post thence that she examined this package hesitantly and then decided to open it.
She found three photographs, all identical, of a group of young men in uniform who appeared to be officers of the Canadian and of the American armies. The faces were all strange to Ethel until, with a start which stopped the beat of her heart, she recognized Barney Loutrelle. He was neither the most nor the least prominent of the group which counted eleven members; he was standing a little to the right of the center and in the second row; but in each of the prints his identity was unmistakable.
It might be—Ethel argued hollowly with herself—it might be merely a coincidence. Cousin Agnes might have known any of the other men; she had done a marvellous amount of work during the war and had made friends with hundreds of soldiers. But Barney was in that picture of which she had desired three prints; a receipt from the photographer, mailed with the prints, proved that Mrs. Oliver Cullen herself had ordered and paid for the pictures.
Ethel resolved that she must discover the meaning, if possible; so she set to examining the rest of Agnes's mail. Some one had opened most of the envelopes, probably to ascertain whether the contents were purely personal or should be turned over to the court representative; Ethel discovered that her cousin's wife had taken active part in more enterprises for others and had possessed even a wider circle of friends of every sort than she had imagined; but she came upon nothing which referred in any way to the picture of the group of officers or to Barney Loutrelle.
Ethel tied up two of the prints in their wrapping and took the other to her room. At moments she thought that she should tell Barney about it as early as possible; at other times she knew that she could not, until the meaning of its possession by Agnes became clearer, or at least until it was certain that Agnes had obtained the photographs because of him. What would he think, if she told him? She remembered how he had looked when he had stood before the fire in the cabin with his hands outstretched and she had spoken to him suddenly of himself; and how he had flushed when he turned to her. So she held his photograph before her and thought.
Her uncle Lucas called early the next morning to ask what she was doing about the business matters concerning which she had consulted him several days ago. When she said that she had written to Wyoming that she had failed to obtain help from her family, he told her he would wire Wyoming to disregard her letter; he had decided to "protect" her interests in the projects under way.
She thanked him and made no comment; he—being Lucas, Junior, not Senior—made no comment and asked no pledges before he departed.
That afternoon she received a letter from Barney in which he reported that upon his return to the Rock he had found affairs just as she had left them; he had been sleeping at the Rock, without interference from Wheedon and without being visited by anyone else except "Sam Green Sky who, I must say, is one hundred and ten per cent curious about me—in the daytime—either on his own account or for some one else.
"I have seen no one from St. Florentin," Barney continued. "But I think—and Asa agrees with me—that Kincheloe has got out. I don't know when or where; but he is not about. I have found an Indian—Jim Ozibee, do you know him—who saw a stranger about here three days ago who, I think, is the fellow that slept in that shack opposite Rest Cabin, Miss Carew. From what I can make out from Ozibee, he was an old man who seemed a bit off his head from exposure, perhaps. Anyway, he seemed wholly purposeless and harmless, and I think we were wrong in connecting him up with our affair. I couldn't obtain any better description of him than he was tall and gray-haired and wore a short mitten on his right hand as the ends of his fingers were off."
This determined Ethel to telegraph Barney to come at once to Chicago unless there were developments at St. Florentin. He received the message the next morning and replied by wire that he was taking the train that night. But before him, two others took the train from Quesnel for Chicago—Lucas Cullen, Senior, and his wife. And upon the day of their arrival, the first news confirming the assumption of Agnes's death reached the city.
It came to Lucas Cullen, Junior, in a communication not dissimilar to that letter which had awaited Ethel at Scott Street; but Lucas's letter, instead of being from an unknown person, was from an English peer of international reputation for his work in sciences. He wrote privately to Lucas, however; and his purpose was to report a message which he had received from the other world which stated that "Agnes Cullen", having become cognizant, in the next existence, that uncertainty as to her death was causing confusion in this world, wished it known positively that she was dead.