Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 17
CHAPTER XVII"I MUST NEVER SEE HIM AGAIN"
ETHEL held the door open, after Barney had gone, until he had passed the corner and turned; and then, for many minutes, she could not leave the room where they had been. But at last a servant, timidly making the rounds to see to the lights, reminded her of the hour, and she went to her room and undressed; and there, in her nightdress, she sat upon her bed, part of the time gazing at his picture on the bed beside her, part of the time leaning back, clasping her knees, with eyes half closed, re-feeling his arms about her, his lips on hers, her body crushed to his breast.
Only in the fleeting, inconsequential interruptions, which she quickly ended, did thought of her cousin and of her grandfather come to her. Yet at that hour, her grandfather was also still awake and concerned most intensely with menaces for her.
For Bennet, having gone directly home from Scott Street, had found his father and mother out and his grandmother in bed, but his grandfather was still up and reading.
"Well?" Lucas demanded, thrusting his fingers through his thick hair, as he looked up when Bennet entered. "Where have you been this fine evening?"
Lucas knew perfectly well; for by that time he had received a report from his dependable operative; but as the operative had not been able to learn much of what had gone on in Mrs. Davol's home, Lucas let his grandson relate what he already knew for the sake of hearing all the proceedings in order.
Bennet had brought the events up to the departure for the séance when the telephone bell rang and a manservant appeared who reported to Lucas:
"It is Mr. Dougherty, sir, speaking for Mr. John Smith; he says, sir, he feels sure that if you realize all circumstances, you will arrange Mr. Smith's release at once, sir—"
"You tell Mr. Dougherty and Mr. John Smith both to go to hell," Lucas commanded calmly. "Now when he calls again, don't bother me."
When the man disappeared, Lucas demanded of his grandson,
"Want to know who Mr. John Smith is?"
"Who?" said Bennet.
"Miss Platt's husband; Mr. Merrill Stacey Kincheloe. Do you want to know where he is? In the station cell, the lewd, little lizard. He was taken in a raid on a place up in 'Little Paris', I understand they call it; scared his wife will hear 'bout it, so he gave the highly original name of John Smith. Seems to have it on his mind it distresses me to know he's spending a night in jail. Seems to've convinced some shyster I just can't bear it. Go on, my boy, you were saying—"
So Bennet went on, lightly describing his adventure with the medium, relating all incidents in order except for the mention of the spirit who showed the letters "J.Q." Being aware that any reference to Quinlan was unpleasant to his grandfather, Bennet made the most of his satirical description of the other "acts" before he told about the spook who had displayed a capital J. and Q.
This evoked from his grandfather a different quality of attention, but there was no distinct alteration in Lucas's attitude until Bennet related how the medium had said that the spirit had raised a flaming torch and associated the torch with the word Galilee.
So alarming was the consequence of this that Bennet could not at once realize it was simply a consequence. He jumped up in fright, imagining that his grandfather suddenly had suffered from a cramp or other physical seizure.
"Why, grandfather, you want some whiskey? I'll get you—"
Lucas controlled himself and stood up. "Indigestion," he mumbled. "Caviar here to-night. Go on; what else happened?"
When Bennet informed him that nothing else transpired at the séance, he thought for a while that his grandson was concealing something; but at last he satisfied himself that he knew all; and he went to his room.
Bennet's complaisance over the results of this evening now was completely routed. When he went to his room, he flung himself down only to jump up again and stamp about in his impotent anger at Ethel and Loutrelle. "Galilee" and the flaming torch; what was behind them to bring such a reaction from his grandfather? Bennet did not like it at all.
And less would he have liked it had he observed the persistence of the effect upon his grandfather. For Lucas, after leaving his grandson, had passed through the room where was his bed, and where his wife was sleeping, to the bedless room beyond; there he opened the wide window to get air and stood in the dark staring down upon the lake and listening to its tumult. Vaguely in the dim light of the winter stars, he could see the surf leaping landward, hurled by the gale from the north; here and there, near the concrete escarpment of the beach, glints of street lights flickered on the furious up-leap of the halted waves; but old Lucas looked far beyond the near-by fury into the darkness of the distant waters north; and his thoughts and the torment of his breast were bound with the shores far away and with a tiny, long-forgotten hamlet in the pine forest above the lake called long ago, by its Mormon settlers, "Galilee." Nothing had ever happened at Galilee itself,—nothing of extraordinary violence or wrong. It had been a harmless, innocent place; no one could possibly have any particular occasion to recall "Galilee" or connect it with a flaming torch or with any one who displayed the letters "J.Q.",—except Lucas Cullen himself and one other man.
For Lucas never did anything at all at Galilee except meet James Quinlan there and there direct J. Q. to the deed that was to be done.
It was marvellous how, throughout the forty-six years which had passed since that meeting, Lucas had carried consciousness of his own guilt always associated with the place of meeting, "Galilee." He had not known that Quinlan had done so too. He had supposed that Quinlan had lived out his life with a different association. And yet this was natural enough.
"Natural enough!" Lucas muttered to himself. Galilee!
But J. Q was dead; Kincheloe had put his body in the lake. Who, then, knew about Galilee and could associate it with a flaming torch? No one else in all the world but Lucas himself! Yet Ethel and that Loutrelle and Bennet had found out. How? From him?
"By telepathy," Lucas murmured to himself. "By transference of thought." So he sought to explain away the incident as Bennet had tried to do. But the explanation brought neither conviction nor reassurance. Suppose he persuaded himself that it could not have been the ghost of James Quinlan who had informed upon him; suppose he was certain that they had obtained this knowledge from himself?
By God, if they drew "Galilee" and the torch from him, what else could they draw? And if they obtained it not from him, but from the dead, how much more would the dead tell?
Lucas swung from his window to the pile of books which he had purchased the day before, and he struck them with his fist, dashing them over the floor; but that blow of anger and contempt could not undo their effect upon him. For during these last days he had continued to read; and the more his study maddened him and undermined his confidence in himself, the more he had read. Men—sensible men, whom Lucas knew and whom he knew—believed, in these degenerate days, that the dead could return and disclose secrets.
That, if verifiable, was decidedly a staggerer for Lucas who had acted, at certain crises of his life, upon the simple and effective formula that dead men tell no tales. "Galilee and a flaming torch!" Lucas winced and swung back to his window. So old J. Q., though dead, had told? How could Lucas shut up a ghost?
Suddenly his shoulders hunched up, and he spun about with fists clenched and menacing. He had had an insane fancy that J. Q., holding a flaming torch, was in the room behind him. Of course, nothing was there. And the absence of any materiality almost disappointed Lucas; it left him too helpless.
He shut down the window, as it had become very cold in the room; but he paced about in the dark, thinking; and his shrewd, selfish, cruel mind attacked his problem of silencing that ghost by assault upon the physical elements with whose laws Lucas was completely familiar. He succeeded in entirely shutting out, from his thoughts, the effect of "Galilee" while he considered the relations of Ethel and Barney Loutrelle. An idea, half formed, seized him; and he stood stark. It progressed in his mind; and he laughed. In a reaction, it revolted himself; he discarded it; but it came back to him, more convincingly, more complete, and it promised him triumph. So again he laughed and clung to it; in the dark alone, he planned and schemed and chuckled to himself; and undressed there in the dark, so as not to see his own face, while he perfected and determined upon what he had to do.
It was after nine the next morning before Ethel awoke; and then it was so delightful to lie in bed, dreaming over the hours of the evening, that she made no stir, and it was ten when Mrs. Wain at last became convinced that her guest was awake and knocked gently at the door.
She sent in a maid with a breakfast tray, and upon it was a box from a florist which Ethel instantly opened to discover within orchids amid fern; and with them a note:
How can I trust my memories this morning? I would bring these; I would have waited from daylight at your door; may I come early this afternoon? I will try at three; and if you do not want me then, only tell me when you may.
On the other side he had written, "I liked these because they reminded me of the moccasin flower of the north. Do you know it, blossoming in the spring in the marshes?"
"I know it," Ethel said aloud to herself in answer, holding the soft petals against her cheek; she thought she had never known the joy of flowers before; and yet, with dismay, she could not help counting their cost to her lover. She wished he had noted where he was staying; but he had not; she thought of him, sparing expenditure for himself, having breakfast at some cheap lunch counter. She wished she could send for him at once to share with her the food upon her tray.
When she arose, it was hard to lay aside the dress she had worn in the evening when she was in his arms. At moments she flushed and then was bold and unashamed to acknowledge how physically she desired him; she thought of his coloring and the texture of his cheek and hands; the feel of his arms; the contours of his body; and his impulsive strength; and she knew, much as she longed even for sound of his voice over the telephone or for sight of him in the street, she could never be satisfied to be with him again and have less than last night.
"I love you!" she whispered.
The knowledge that the front doorbell had rung and that some one was being admitted, set her to quivering so that she was powerless, for a moment, to fasten hooks and eyes; when a maid knocked at her door, she answered joyously. "Some one for me?"
"Yes, Miss Carew. Mr. Cullen."
"Mr. Cullen? Oh! Oh! Which Mr. Cullen; you mean Mr. Bennet Cullen?"
"No, Miss Carew. Mr. Lucas Cullen, your grandfather."
Ethel shrank in the sudden constriction of dread that something had happened to Barney. In so far as it was based upon reason, it came from knowledge that, after her grandfather had disowned her at St. Florentin, he would never have sought her again except in triumph over her; and particularly when she was in the house of her who had been, in her life, his most bitter enemy.
Ethel had not known of his visiting this house before; and when she went out into the hall and encountered Mrs. Wain, she found the housekeeper agitated evidently by the same extraordinary circumstance.
"It is Mr. Lucas Cullen, Senior," Mrs. Wain repeated.
Ethel hastened down and found her grandfather, with his overcoat on and holding his hat in his gloved hand, standing in the center of the drawing-room and gazing critically about. Whatever his purpose was in seeking Ethel, it did not serve to keep his thoughts from his nephew's wife.
"Hideous place," he passed his judgment of Agnes's taste in decoration before deigning attention to his granddaughter. "Well!" he noticed her directly. "Well! Sit down!"
Ethel did not obey but continued to stand, asking him in turn to seat himself. If she had expected any marked change in him since her last combat with him at St. Florentin, she was disappointed; even his attire was the same, as he made not the slightest concession to city ideas. He was closely shaven, as he always was in the morning; his brows shaggy, his eyes clear and steady. He scrutinized her keenly and suddenly asked, "Who's listening about?"
"No one, I think," Ethel said.
"Make sure of it," he commanded; and Ethel complied. She no longer feared that Barney had suffered any "accident." Her grandfather's errand menaced her, she knew, but in some different manner from her first apprehension. He had succeeded in making her anxious to hear; and, aware of this, he delayed.
"They've made you comfortable here, have they?"
"Very comfortable, grandfather."
"H'm! Of course you've gone your own way; no one to interfere with you, eh?"
"No one," Ethel replied.
"You little fool!" he accused her commiseratingly. "Can't you feel even when your own flesh and blood tries to protect you?"
"From what, grandfather?"
"Had it ever occurred to you that the reason your father never came to my house was that he couldn't?"
"No," Ethel said.
"Think over it a minute."
"Why wouldn't I have him there? He couldn't tell you, I wouldn't. I thought I'd never have to: but you've forced me. This fellow you call Loutrelle. I told you to bring him to see me, didn't I? The first moment I heard you were with him, I said to you, 'Tell him to come to see me!' But you were both so smart; you wanted to do everything yourself. He didn't come."
"He came the next morning, grandfather."
"Eh? You expected me to talk to him then, the way you were carrying on? But I separated you, didn't I? I sent you away. That seemed enough that morning."
"For what?" Ethel asked nervously.
"But of course he had to follow you down. Now I've got to talk to you. You believe that your father—so Bennet's been telling me—got in touch with this fellow called Loutrelle after your father died? That started your interest in him?"
"Why do you suppose your father did that? Why did he pick him, I mean?"
"Why—why, grandfather; he was going to meet me. Father knew that, some way—"
"Tomfoolery! Look here, your father was killed, and after he was dead—so you think—he tried to talk to this Loutrelle. Now I'm not saying I believe that: I'm taking just what you think. I'm not here to tell you anything this morning on my word, after what you've said to me. So let's just take your own information; your father's spirit, the first thing after he was dead, goes about looking for a fellow named Barney Loutrelle. Now spirits—all I've heard of—usually go first for those closest to 'em, don't they?"
"Why, usually, grandfather."
"Well, what makes you think this is an exception?"
Ethel shrank back, comprehending less his words than the ugliness of his inflection.
"What do you mean?" she demanded.
"He must have had a father, didn't he? This fellow you call Loutrelle?"
Ethel stared without answering.
"Well, who more natural for a father to seek than his son?"
"My father!" Ethel said. "You're talking about my father?"
"Before he was your father. I knew him! He was about St. Florentin quite a little in the old days—quite a little! You may remember I would not have him marry my daughter. So they ran off. I knew—there was a girl to go to Resurrection Rock."
Ethel flung herself at him and with her little fists clenched tight she pummeled him on the chest. "You lie—you lie—you lie! My father! You lie—you lie—"
Mercifully at that moment, the shock of it stunned her from thinking beyond the reference directed to her father; she could not realize what it meant between herself and Barney and what was the purpose of her grandfather in telling this to her. Besides, she refused all truth to it. Her grandfather, always the enemy of her dead father, was slandering him now; that was all she could think. "Oh, you lie—you lie."
He caught her fists and held her brutally before him. He saw that he had not at all convinced her; but he had not expected to simply by this statement of the false before combining it with what was true. He was too old and shrewd in experience to fail to know how a truth told may carry with it a lie.
"Who was his father then?" he demanded of his granddaughter, half shaking her. "Do you know? Then tell me! I don't know, of course; paternity's not like maternity; but his mother— Do you know who she was? Agnes here!" Suddenly he dropped Ethel and gestured horridly with both hands. "Your father and your father's friend—Agnes!"
"Oh! Oh! God!" Ethel cried.
Her grandfather said not another word; he stood for only a moment more, looking at her; then, satisfied, he pulled on his hat and stalked to the door. He had not known whether Ethel had learned enough to have already come to believe that Agnes had been the mother of Barney Loutrelle; and the success of Lucas's scheme swung on that. But he saw that he had told her something which she was sure was true; and so, though she might deny and refuse his statement about her father, yet he had planted in her a doubt—a question, unresolvable—and this, for his purposes, was as useful as credence.
He let himself out and walked down to his son's town car which had waited.
In the whirl of her emotions, she was endeavoring to fasten thought upon Barney only as cousin Agnes's son; but against her will, and revolting her, thoughts of her father would come in. A score of circumstances marshalled in her mind to deny her grandfather's word; and then a score more crowded to lend it a color of credulity. Agnes's son! Yes; that was well; she felt no recoil at that; but at the idea of her father and Agnes— A lie— Yet why had her father sought Barney?—Who?— Oh, she could not believe it; yet she could not know. And if it were true?
Oh, last night he had taken her as a lover, Agnes's son and—her father's? She was here in Agnes's house—Agnes who might have been—might have been—
Only a few short moments ago, she had been longing for Barney, her heart leaping at every sound which might announce him; she had desired his voice, sight of him, the pressure of his lips, his cheek warm against hers, his arms about her, their bodies quivering together. Now the recollection sickened her; she could never see him again until she could know. And if this were not true, would she ever know? And if it were true?
She gazed about at the room to which, a minute ago, her grandfather had motioned with horror; and she shuddered. She could not stay here. Her father and cousin Agnes—a lie—yet—yet—
She heard some one coming and, starting up, she saw cousin Agnes's housekeeper. Mrs. Wain, usually so calm, so completely in control of herself, advanced under a nervous tension which visibly shook her slight body. Her face was gray; her hands were gray and quavering; with her first words she confessed that she had posted herself somewhere within hearing of Lucas Cullen's voice.
"What was he saying to you of Mrs. Oliver Cullen?" she besought, her hands trembling on Ethel's shoulder, "What was he telling to you? Oh, you must tell me; he said Mrs. Cullen—"
"Nothing about her now!" Ethel cried. "I mean, he was talking about her long ago. But—but," suddenly she collapsed in the housekeeper's arms. "I'm going away; home to Wyoming, Mrs. Wain. You must help me off. And if Mr. Loutrelle calls for me or telephones, I can not speak to him! I can't see him! Perhaps—perhaps I can write. But I'm going home; no; don't tell him that. He'd try to follow. I must go away from him; from every one. I must never see him again!"