Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVITHE RIGHT TO LOVE

ETHEL forgot him almost as soon as he had slammed the front door behind him.

"You think we'd better have Kincheloe arrested?" she asked Barney when she returned to the drawing-room.

"I'd like to know what he's doing now," Barney said.

"Oh; Bennet's told me. He's having his sort of a fast time. That part of Chicago's called, by people who go there, 'Little Paris.' I think it's the sort of place Kincheloe always went to by himself; he's more money to spend there now, though. I suppose he gets it from grandfather."

Barney made no comment, and they both sat down.

"It was—surprising, wasn't it?" she asked, looking at him, her mind now washed free from Bennet's interjections.

"What we got?" Barney asked. "Yes."

"Mine, of course, wasn't much, if it was anything at all. But yours—do you want to tell me what you thought about it?"

"You mean whether I believed those were the circumstances of my birth? Whether the Indian was telling me of my mother? Yes, I did, Miss Carew."

"Who could the Indian be? Noah Jo?"

"I suppose so."

"I wonder why he couldn't give his name?"

"They often find it hard to; that's all the Adleys were able to say," Barney replied. "They can communicate other words—even difficult ones, like some we got to-night—better than names. It wasn't so surprising, when you come to think of it, that she could understand Chippewa words," Barney admitted, considering with himself quite as much as arguing with Ethel. "Probably she could do that a good deal in the way your cousin said. But it was what the Indian told that gave me the start. You see, that expression about crossing a narrow strip of water—It's exactly the one that Asa Redbird uses now, for instance, when taking anything from the shore to Resurrection Rock. Of course, it might apply to other channels, too; but the business about the milk hardly could."

He stood up and, turning his back to Ethel, he strode away, as he had a habit of doing when beset by emotion.

"I didn't tell you about this before, Miss Carew," he said haltingly when he turned back toward her, "because it seemed so trivial. But Wheedon happened to tell me one night last week when we were talking about the Rock, that a long time ago—twenty-two or three years ago—an Indian fisherman used to live on the Rock. Did you ever hear of him?"

"Yes," said Ethel.

"Did you ever learn his name?"

"No."

"Wheedon had forgotten it, if he ever knew; but he told me that he was a good Indian; he happened to mention that one summer the Indian had a baby, and every night he'd come ashore, after he'd seen to his nets, and get milk to take back to the baby."

"A white baby, Barney?"

"I don't know. I didn't ask him. He didn't say. You see—you see—Miss Carew, it hadn't occurred to me then that I—"

"What, Barney?"

"That I might have been born on the Rock, Miss Carew."

"Barney!" Ethel rebuked him by his own name gently. "Barney!"

"You can't want me to call you—"

"I can't?"

"Ethel!" he said, hardly whispering it; but she heard. "Ethel!" he clenched his hands behind him, and she stepped farther back. "That's the I was born, I believe!"

"Let's believe it, Barney!"

"Miss Carew!"

"I don't mind believing it, Barney! It doesn't change you! Except to make you finer!"

"Finer?"

"Because you've had to do it all yourself! Don't you see how I—" she faltered a little and substituted—"how every one must admire you only more for that! Besides, my people are to blame."

"How do you mean?" he asked quickly.

"They must be; I don't know more than you do; oh, Barney, I've told you everything. But we both of us know together that my people—my grandfather and my uncle, at least—tried to harm you. Not to hurt you, perhaps; but they saw that Quinlan was killed before he could find you. Why? You hadn't done anything to any of my family; you hadn't even heard of them before you met me. It was what you were—because you were that baby born on the Rock; and they knew it. I told you that morning we met when we were in that cabin—remember?"

"Remember?" he repeated.

"I said you might be—any one!" she recalled, gazing up at him with eyes suddenly wet. "You are not—not just an outcast born in an Indian hut. I don't think I'd care if you were! But we know there was a reason why your mother had to go there! And my people were back of that reason. Besides them, I think Quinlan knew it; and they had to kill him to stop him from finding you. The burden of proving respectability—if either of us is thinking of that—is on my people, I'd say; not on you!"

"Miss Carew!" he protested again. He still stood away from her, but she could see him trembling; she herself was quivering.

She had not intended to say what she had; but having said it, she meant it. She would not care if he were an outcast born in a Chippewa shack; but the certainty that he was not was never clearer to her than now. He had seemed to her "some one" that morning when she first saw him when he was in his rough army coat and surrounded only by travelers on the northern woods train; this feeling had deepened during her companionship with him on their way to St. Florentin and afterwards. But there, too, he had been in rough environment. Here he was in Agnes's drawing-room; and as Ethel gazed at him, she felt that her cousin Bennet—or, indeed, any other man whom she knew—had been far more out of place in this room than Barney. It was not alone the natural ease of his tall, well-formed figure; he possessed that attribute which Ethel could define no more distinctly to herself than by thinking of him as "well-born." The word had nothing to do, she knew, with the wealth or social position of his parents; for her own wealthy friends more often lacked this distinction than not. Bennet did not have it; nor his friends. But her father had had it, though originally he had been poor; others of his friends had possessed it. Barney did.

"I know now why grandfather feared the Rock all these years, Barney; it was for fear you'd come back! That's why Halford and the other man waited there; for word of you! That's why the house was built and left to wait; for you! Never think of yourself again as—as you said you did sometimes! Now tell me what some of those things meant. He said—that Indian—that your mother went away in the moon of the wild rice gathering; what does that mean?"

"It is only English for the Chippewa way of saying September, Miss Carew."

"And the moon of the breaking snowshoes?"

"That's the way the Chippewa speaks of April."

"Do they? That's beautiful, Barney. I didn't realize that you spoke Chippewa; you would, of course. But I didn't think of it. You see, Sam Green Sky and Asa and the other Indians we have around always speak English with us; of course, I knew they didn't among themselves."

"I can't remember learning Chippewa," Barney said. "But I can remember learning English."

"I hadn't really known about you, Barney; I thought I did. I've been thinking about you, really, a very great deal; but I see I didn't succeed in placing you in your boyhood."

He said nothing but stood gazing at her questioningly and waited; and more clearly than ever before she pictured him,—the little white boy, with the good, even eyes, looking up bewildered at the Indian who was telling him he was white. Her eyes dimmed.

"But this which we learned to-night, Barney, helps a lot; your mother came—with you," she added gently, "to the shore there beyond St. Florentin. In April—the moon of the breaking snowshoes," she repeated the poetry of the Indian phrase, "Noah Jo—we may as well call him that—took her in his boat across the channel to Resurrection Rock where he and his wife took care of her. You were born there; in September your mother was sick; but Pauguk did not strike her; what does that mean, Barney?"

"Death; Pauguk is death."

"Yes; it seemed so. She did not die—there, at least. But she went away and did not come back, though Noah Jo waited there until winter—"

"November, he meant," Barney supplied. "He spoke of the freezing of water; that is the Chippewa name for November—the moon of the freezing again."

"I see. And then, as he was a nomad, he went away and took you; he died—now you're coming to affairs you learned from Azen Mabo—and gave you to Azen without being able to tell anything about you but that the ring went with you. We don't know why your mother couldn't come back; or why your father wasn't there; but we know that one of them one—or some one—did everything they could to find you later. They kept the watch on the Rock; they bought the Rock and built the house and kept it there for you—and then, when my father was dead, he found you, it seems, and sent you there; and some one sent Quinlan; but my grandfather had Quinlan killed—we really got quite a lot to-night, didn't we, Barney?"

"I've got," Barney said, his hands still clenched behind him, "more than I ever had in all life before."

He moved a little nearer her. "I don't mean from the medium; I mean from you—Miss—Ethel Carew. You're a strange girl; the finest and noblest in all the world," he added quickly. "From the first, in spite of how I told you about myself, you treated me as I never expected any girl of your kind could. Why even in Boyne, the girls couldn't help holding my—what wasn't known—against me! But you never did. You just made it good to yourself and to me! You turned against your own people, and you trusted me!"

"You, Barney? Why not? How could I help it?"

"Don't!" he warned swiftly. "I've got to thinking about you I never should. I know that perfectly well—"

"How do you think about me, Barney?"

"Think?" he repeated. "I don't think about you. I can't. I love—love—love you! There, I've said it!" He snatched his hands apart behind him and struck them together before him in his dismay.

"I—" she stopped.

"Oh, what, please?"

"I'm glad you did, Barney."

"Oh, you're so decent, Ethel Carew! You're so—so binisika decent. That's Indian; it means of you, yourself, through and through, because it's you and for no other reason. That's the way this is, Miss Carew; and I know it. Because you're you, you picked me up and went to making me believe in myself and that I was right in thinking of myself as something like you, whereas you should—you should have doubted me at once, like every one else, and questioned me and made me prove—"

"Prove what, Barney?"

"What I am."

"But that's always been plain, Barney; nothing—nothing we could possibly find could make you different."

"Lots of things could."

"Could anything make you think differently about me?"

"About you?" he repeated wonderingly and laughed in joy. "What do you mean?"

"Just what meant to me."

"But there couldn't be anything about yourself that could change you."

"Nor you, Barney."

He started closer to her, then controlled himself and jerked about and strode a few steps away, where he stood with his back toward her.

"Caring about a girl—love, Miss Carew," he said, still turned from her, "it was a thing I'd put off. It didn't seem to be for me. Not that I didn't have normal feelings; but even in Boyne, I said, any girl would want to know about me. They were very kind, you understand. I could go with them to dances, and they'd be nice to me—"

"Nice to you!" Ethel interrupted. "I should think they would be."

He half turned about, a warm flush passing over his face; at some memory, Ethel thought, of an occasion when some one might not have been so "nice."

"—but it was understood that no one could 'consider' Barney Loutrelle."

"Who understood it?"

"All of them—I," Barney said quietly.

She put her hand toward him impulsively. He had clasped his hands behind him again; and at her offering, she saw him strain at the tenseness with which he locked his hold upon his wrist. Wetness again came to her eyes; and she withdrew her hand, unoffended.

"You love me, Barney?" she said.

"Love you! Love you!"

"I love you, Barney. I've loved you from our first morning together, I think."

"No; no; no!" he tried to deny her; but she only smiled up at him and said:

"Yes; you've known that, Barney. That's been what's troubled you; not that you loved me, but that it was so plain that I loved you."

"So plain!" he denied, almost furiously, for her. "It wasn't. It's not true now!"

"Oh, isn't it? Do you suppose I'm ashamed."

He dropped to his knees before her and caught her hands and held them.

"The moment I saw you, Ethel Carew, I—cared. You didn't even see me then. I was in the car when you came in; you hardly looked at me. I watched you all that evening, while you worked over those papers in your section. Sometimes you seemed trying to decide things; sometimes it seemed you were just adding up figures which wouldn't come out right. It was wonderful to be able to watch you; you didn't know I was there at all."

"Oh, yes, I did."

"That much, perhaps; but you didn't care about me, then."

"I didn't know anything about you."

"Nor I about you; but I cared."

"How?"

"It seemed I had to help you; I wanted to go over and grab those papers and make the answers out right—or tell you they didn't matter."

"They didn't, Barney—as it turned out."

"Then the next morning you spoke to me! It was you—you whose name I had."

"That was so strange, Barney!"

"Only wonderful, Ethel! All that morning, while I was talking to you as I had never spoken to any girl before, I kept dreaming, hoping one thing."

"What was it?"

"That what I was to learn at the Rock would make it possible for me to be your friend. I was excited that morning, you remember, when you told me there was such a place as St. Florentin and Resurrection Rock. It seemed to me that at last I was getting close to the thing I'd wondered and dreamed about all my life—who my people were and why I had that ring! I'd dreamed great and marvellous things about myself sometimes, Ethel."

"I know, I know!"

"But that morning, they all left me for something more wonderful yet. If I could have found myself a prince or some sort of heir to half the riches of the world—you know how one imagines, Ethel?"

"Oh, yes!"

"I'd have given that up just to find enough that was good and decent and honest about myself to make it right for me to follow you—and love you."

"That was in your mind that morning, Barney?"

"When you spoke to me when I was staring at the fire in the cabin."

"I see!"

"Then that night when I was alone there—and the next morning, dear, dear, Ethel—but I'd found nothing out, you know; nothing about myself. I've found out nothing now of the knowledge I ought to have."

"But you've found I don't care except about you."

He bent his head and drew her hands to his lips; and his kiss, though not at all like the first love kiss she had dreamed to be hers some day, brought her amazing ecstasy. She loved this boy who so loved her and yet, half in fear of himself, half in fear of her, held from her even in their rapture. She wanted him nearer now; she wanted his arms about her, his strength subduing hers, overpowering and holding her; and yet she delighted too in his courtly awe of her when he had kissed her hands and released her, catching his breath, after no more than that.

"I've never—" he said, "I've never had anything like that before."

"Nor I! Nor I!" Ethel cried; she caught his hands now and held him before her.

"You'd not? All the men in the world must have loved you, Ethel, the moment they caught sight of you."

"And the women, you! Yet you didn't care until you saw me! Not even abroad, Barney, in England and France where girls—"

He gazed steadily into her eyes, knowing what she would not, and yet wished to ask. Had he been, even without love, another girl's?

"There are some advantages in being brought up in an Indian shack, Ethel," he said. "They've only one room often, you know; with sometimes two families or three; and lots of human living is there. What you learn turns you straight either one way or the other; it turned me to look for—for you; and to wait till I'd found you."

She bent down and kissed his fingers; so he arose and drew her up with him. For a few moments he held her against him with her bosom trembling on his throbbing breast; then, slipping his arms lower, he lifted her and, laughing at her quiver under his strength, he strode with her a few steps and catching her higher, he brought his lips to hers.

"The savage in me," he said, at last letting her slip down.

"Oh, I liked it!"

"I," he said, gasping. "I can't stay here any longer now."

"Why not?"

"The time," he said, turning to the clock; but, though now it was almost midnight, she knew he was not thinking chiefly of the time, but of what he had done; and she would not have him question it.

"Where are you going to-night, dear?" she asked.

"To-night?" he said, as though the thought had just occurred to him. "I left my bag at the station. I'll go back there first; and then—what difference, Ethel? I'll not sleep; what a waste of recollection of you unless I'd be sure to dream! I'll not take that chance."

"You must; I must know where you are, now. I must think, too!"

"You'll be here, I'll know; that will be good to think."

"In the morning you'll come back?"

"You want me to?"

"Want you!"

"Now you do; but to-morrow morning?"

"Just come and see."

"I will then! Good night!"

"Good night!"

"Oh, I've done wrong, I know, Ethel! But you'll not hate me?"

"Hold me once again!"

"Now then—good night!"

"Oh, good night!"