Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 18

CHAPTER XVIIITHE WOMAN WHO WENT TO THE ROCK

EARLY that afternoon, Lucas's dependable operative reported that he had followed Ethel Carew from the house on Scott Street to the Union Station where she purchased a ticket and boarded a Chicago, Burlington and Quincy train for Sheridan, Wyoming. She had been unattended and plainly under the stress of strong emotion. Lucas sent the man back to Scott Street to wait for Barney Loutrelle. Accordingly, the man later reported that a few minutes before three, Loutrelle walked past the Oliver Cullen house, looking up at the windows; almost exactly at three, he presented himself at the door and was admitted by a servant. Four minutes later, Loutrelle came out, evidently so astonished at what he had learned in the house that he seemed completely at a loss. He set off, walking so rapidly that the operative had great difficulty in following him; but his choice of direction seemed to be haphazard. He halted in a quiet spot and took from his pocket a note which he read and reread; at last he went to a boarding house on Superior Street, where he had a room.

The operative, forsaking the field of direct observation for an excursion into deduction, ventured that Loutrelle's agitation was due to the note which explained Miss Carew's sudden departure.

"I wouldn't be a mite surprised," Lucas said comfortably to himself, when he read over this report. He bit off a fresh cigar and, licking it unlit between his lips, he went to the window where he had stood in fear the night before, looking up the lake and thinking of "Galilee."

It was plain that his scheme had resulted well; accordingly he complimented his operative and instructed him to cease giving attention to Scott Street but for the present to keep an eye out for Loutrelle; and when the attorney Dougherty telephoned that morning for funds to pay the fine of Merrill Kincheloe—alias John Smith—Lucas sent the money.

"But I'd like to know what my granddaughter said to that—" Lucas mused, unnamably, to himself when his mind dwelt on the main matter in hand.

What Ethel had told Barney was brief and simple in its final statement, though it was the result of two hours' struggle with pen and paper, during which she wrote and destroyed many more elaborate attempts at explanation and farewell.

Dear Barney:

I have found that I must leave at once for my home. I must ask you to trust me and to believe that in going, I am acting not upon impulse but after the most serious thought I have ever given to any action. Some time later, I shall know how to explain what must seem madness to you. Now I can not. And will not make what I have to do harder by following me, will you?

Where you are and how you are and what you are doing remain with me the most important things in my life; so you must let me know all about yourself. My address will be Sheridan, Wyoming.

Ethel.

Amazing and stupefying as was this sudden change, yet it never seemed madness to Barney, nor was it for even a moment inexplicable. It was what he was to expect, he said to himself. "She thought me over, when she realized what she had done; and of course, she couldn't have me."

After his hours of walking the streets, he threw himself across his bed in his room and tried to think.

He seemed to be a little boy again, in ragged shirt and trousers, sitting beside Azen Mabo on the seat of the rude, Indian-made wagon, driving into Charlevoix with bark canoes and reed baskets to sell; and Ethel seemed to him one of the little girls, fair and gay in light summer dresses, who gazed at him curiously for a moment and then looked away and forgot him. His Indian upbringing of those early years had fastened upon him a fatalism by which he was apt to interpret events as the result of omens; and to-day he took that memory as a portent of his life. "Of course I should have known," he repeated. "They looked, and looked away."

As he lay there, memories also crowded back to him of the good Franciscan fathers who talked to him about himself when he was a boy. The holy Fathers, he knew, themselves did not marry; and this was because marriage was of the flesh; and it seemed that children were born "in sin"; and Barney discovered that he himself was considered to have been born in particularly odious sin. Undoubtedly his mother had suffered for it, though the good Saviour, who himself had been merciful to the Magdalene, may have forgiven her; undoubtedly his father either had suffered or was sure to pay penance; and, also, Barney himself must suffer to escape the kagige kotagitowin—the damnation forever.

There was much about this which the boy of course could not understand, but of that which he comprehended so much seemed unfair that, as soon as he could read the Enamiad Gegikimind, he searched the Scriptures for hope for himself. Yet it was sternness and austerity which the good fathers enjoined,—which they were obliged to enjoin particularly in those matters of morality with which the seventh commandment is concerned. So, although Barney left Azen Mabo's house early in his adolescence, yet he carried with him the effect of the Indian dreads and superstitions. When he thought of his mother as dead, he trembled at the fear of her having died perhaps without full kotagiidisowin,—penance for sins confessed; and reproach for his parent's evident sin was kept alive in Barney's soul. Many a time, when lonely and brooding, the little boy considered preparing for Holy Orders and subjecting himself to the disciplines and severities of the Franciscans; and, in certain moods of self-examination, this thought clung to him up to the year when the war called him.

When he had come through the war morally clean—for in spite of the women in France and England who gladly gave themselves to such as he, Barney came through clean—he had imagined himself as perhaps absolved at last from effects of that sin in which he had been born; and his meeting with Ethel had appeared to him as evidence of his absolution. Their encounter seemed arranged, not by themselves, but by souls in Heaven; at once, when he told her about himself, she had disregarded all thought of damnation of him; and he had loved,—loved with such passion as he had never suspected himself of capacity to possess; and she had loved in return. And now?

He sat up and pulled himself together. What had happened, he said to himself, had proved simply another trial ordained for his confusion. He had dared to love, to loose the fleshly desires of missawenimowen which had destroyed his mother. Now he must continue to love; and know no love.

He reread his lover's letter. She had no need to ask him not to follow her. He was sure that he understood too well her reasons for flight; and he blamed her not at all. The wonder was, not that she had now fled from him, but that she had submitted herself to so much for him,—to hostility of all her own people when she had stood alone with him against them. It had become too much for her.

He closed his eyes, thinking of her, kind and sweet and gentle to him always; he thought of how she had given herself to his arms, how he had held her and kissed her, and she had clung to him; and something of the mystic and the magic of his Indian rearing recaptured him; and he thought of Ethel, though sent by souls—manitos—to try him, yet of herself binishi, having loved him—and of herself loving him yet, perhaps?—though the superior spirits again had drawn her away.

Then, sitting up and banishing such fancies, he thought of her grandfather and Kincheloe and James Quinlan, who was dead, and of the other Cullens. What should he do about them? And about the house on the Rock? Well, nothing just now. He formed no real decision; he merely found himself disinclined to press further at once. He had been proceeding so completely in partnership with Ethel that her withdrawal forced him to take time for readjustment of his present rights and duties and responsibilities. Moreover, was it not possible that she might return to him as suddenly and as unaccountably as she had departed?

Accordingly for the next few days Lucas's operative, who was keeping an eye on Barney, reported nothing more threatening to Lucas than the fact that Loutrelle called at some time every day at the Scott Street house and inquired for Ethel Carew. This apparent paralysis of hostile action proved so reassuring to Lucas that gradually his and his operative's vigilance relaxed; and Barney happened to be unobserved upon the particular occasion when, upon presenting himself at the Scott Street house, he was invited in, as Mrs. Wain wished to speak to him.

Barney entered the drawing-room and waited, palpitantly, certain that at last he was to receive some word from Ethel. When the housekeeper entered, she carried no envelope; but her agitation was so great that Barney demanded in alarm: "What has happened to Miss Carew?"

"Nothing—nothing I know of, sir," Mrs. Wain assured, succeeding in better controlling herself. "It is something quite different, sir. Will you sit down, please?"

Barney complied, aware that until he was seated the gray, little housekeeper would not sit down; and she was so unsteady that she was grasping a chair-back for support.

"I speak to you, sir," she said breathlessly, after she had sunk into the seat, "upon my own responsibility, sir, entirely. I have no right to speak, sir; no authority. So I must ask you, before I say another word, to give me your word as a gentleman that you will make no use of what I shall tell—unless I allow you."

Barney felt his pulses pounding again; Mrs. Wain knew nothing more of Ethel; but evidently some other event mightily affected her and would affect him. "What is it?" he demanded.

"Your word, sir, or I can do nothing. I can not take you to her. You may never see her—alive!"

"Her?" said Barney, rising. "See whom? Who are you talking about?"

"I cannot tell you that, Mr.—Mr.—" she stammered; yet Barney knew that she had not forgotten his name. Rather he understood that now, for some reason, she would not address him, as previously she had, by that name which long ago he had given himself. "For I do not know what is to happen, sir! If she dies—"

"Not Ethel Carew!" He did not think that; yet he had to wholly dismiss it from his mind.

"No! She—if she dies, then of course I will tell you everything—I mean, sir, the little that I know. But if she does not die, you must know nothing of what you see this day. She would never forgive me, you see; she trusted me and—" the housekeeper broke off in dismay.

Barney seemed stifled and cramped as he stood there staring down at Mrs. Wain. Flashes of blood alternated with paleness in her thin cheeks and on her forehead, and her trembling and her frightened eyes appealed to him piteously. He was not conscious of purpose other than reaction to the stifling sensation of inaction when he moved away and into the next room where was the picture of Mrs. Oliver Cullen before which he halted and stared. The housekeeper did not follow him but turned around in her chair and watched him.

"Why did you go there?" she whispered when he returned.

"Go where?" he asked.

"Never mind, sir. Hush!"

"Why?"

"The servants, sir."

Barney silently observed the housekeeper and knew that, in her present agitation, she would trust herself to say nothing more. "What do you want me to do?" he asked.

"You give me the promise I asked, sir?"

"Yes."

"I'm watched, I know, sir," Mrs. Wain said. "By some one of the Cullens. Are you watched too?"

"Yes," said Barney.

"But I know how to avoid it, when I wish. Do you?"

"It's not impossible," Barney replied.

"Then you will meet me, sir—when you're sure you're alone?"

"Where?"

"At the corner of Tenth and Wabash. You know where that is?"

"I'll find it. When?"

"As soon as I can be there, sir."

Barney went immediately downtown and, entering Field's, he waited before an elevator until it was so filled that the attendant would admit only one other person; he went in, ascended a few floors, crossed to the far end of the building, descended and took a street car to Tenth and Wabash. He had to wait on the corner only a few minutes before Mrs. Wain drove up in a taxi and invited him in.

"St Luke's Hospital," she said to the driver; and when the door was closed, she vouchsafed to Barney, "She's had another operation; it was performed the day before yesterday. She rallied at first but sank later."

Still the housekeeper gave no intimation of who "she" was; and Barney was aware that direct inquiry would be as vain as it proved at the house.

"I will know her?" he asked.

"No. But whatever you think, you must control yourself, you understand; in her presence, you must control yourself absolutely."

Barney observed that the doorman at the hospital knew Mrs. Wain, and she was passed to the elevator without question, and he, being with her, went unchallenged. They proceeded to a floor where were many private wards, and a nurse admitted them to a large room with a single bed in which lay a woman apparently asleep.

Barney did not know her; when the nurse, who had been beside the bed, moved away, and Mrs. Wain held back and Barney advanced alone, he was not conscious of ever having seen the woman who lay on her side with her profile plain against the pillow. Yet a fluttering of awe—of more than awe—came over him as he halted silently beside the bed.

Not because of the evidence of the imminence of Death; Barney was far too familiar with the hoverings of Death to have that fact alone so tremendously affect him. This emotion which possessed him was amazingly more tumultuous than any like passion of his life. He had felt most deeply before when, in the second battle of Ypres, his battalion had been in support when the Germans made the first gas attack and his comrades and he had moved forward to hold the line; his closest friend had been badly gassed while Barney himself by some luck had almost escaped harm; and Barney had lain, unable to do anything to help, while the one he loved most in the world was dying.

Why was this moment beside the bed of a strange woman so like that; why, indeed, did it tear at him more mercilessly even than had that?

Not alone because he saw upon her the terrible testimony of agony. Her face, as she lay turned toward him, was beautiful, though illness and intense suffering she had surely endured. Her skin was clear and lovely even in its deathly pallor; her hair—black and abundant—had clung to its luster as had her dark brows and the lashes which lay on her cheek. The ordeal of pain, which had worn the flesh from her cheek bones, had been powerless to destroy the beauty of her forehead, of the line of her nose and the resoluteness of her chin. Her lips were very thin; yet a tint of blood lay in them; they told most pitilessly how she must have suffered and how she had refused to capitulate to pain or to the threat of death. She had fallen into this stupor of sleep—Barney thought—aware that the doctors had given her up; but, with her whole being, she was determined to live. Even now the indomitable soul of her—that essence of her spirit which persisted though consciousness long was gone—was keeping up the fight, Barney felt. And he wanted her to win; oh, how he wanted her to win!

It seemed to him he had never wished so for another's life; and why? Because, for the first time, he was beside some one who belonged to him by blood? Because she was his—mother?

At first, after this thought overwhelmed him, he started back a little. He feared lest an obsession controlled his reason. All his life he had been dreaming of his mother; this woman, except that she evidently was the age that his mother must now be, was not either particularly like or unlike the mothers of his dreams. His mother!

He looked down, then gazed again at her face. She was like him! Yes; not he alone observed the likeness of profile to his own; the nurse also noticed the resemblance. When Barney had suddenly started back, the nurse had crept quickly forward, apprehensive of some change in her patient's condition. When she saw none, she looked up questioningly at Barney, and when he shook his head to signify that he had seen nothing more alarming, still the nurse gazed at him intently, and when she turned away it was to scrutinize the face of the sleeping woman with new understanding.

"My mother!" Barney's lips formed to himself. "Mother!"

Yet now he had to know beyond speculation. He saw that Mrs. Wain was just within the door; so he dropped back to her and turned to her in an appeal which she could not refuse. "She is mother?"

"Your mother, sir," the housekeeper said. "If she calls you in her sleep, sir—or awake, if she says Dick, she means you, sir. Dick—you understand?"

"I understand," Barney whispered. "You mean she has been asking for me?"

"When she did not know it, she asked for you. 'Dick, my baby; my boy—Dick,' she said this morning. That was why I brought you."

Barney's eyes dimmed. "How long has she been here?"

"Almost three weeks."

"But not like this?"

"No, sir; this is the result of the operation of yesterday."

"How long has she been ill?"

"Since the injury, sir, when the ship was torpedoed."

"What ship?"

"The ship that she was going back to France on, sir, last September to find you. The Gallantic."

"To find me?" Barney repeated dazedly. He had heard of the Gallantic, he knew, in some connection with himself or with Ethel Carew or with the Cullens, recently; but in the whirl of his passions, the name bore no near significance.

"Yes, sir. You see, Mr. Dick, she'd just got track of you at last. All your life, for twenty-three years, she'd been searching for you; and then—" Mrs. Wain stopped.

"Did she know last week—before the operation—where I was?"

"Oh, yes, sir."

"Why—why didn't she send—" he began, but he did not finish; he could not challenge his mother now. He had found her; so he went close once more beside her. He did not even look again at Mrs. Wain nor was he conscious longer of the presence of the nurse. He thought of himself as alone with his mother; indeed, after a few moments he was alone, for Mrs. Wain and the nurse withdrew. But they had passed far from Barney's perceptions.

Standing again beside his mother, he seemed to see her, not only as she was now, but as she had been when she had given him life. Of her, he knew from ordinary sources of information that, twenty-three years ago, she had left him with a nomad Chippewa fisherman called Noah Jo and left with him a ring; since then, she had been searching for him, during all his life; a few months ago, when he was still in France, she had "got track" of him and was on her way to find him when her ship was torpedoed and she was injured. With this knowledge gained years ago from Azen Mabo and just now from Mrs. Wain, there blended in Barney's soul the story of his mother and himself told by the medium. He had never questioned that; still less did he care to question it now. It let him see his mother very clearly when she was a girl,—a beautiful, brave, forsaken girl, big with her baby about to be born, stumbling to the edge of the water on the shore of Huron near St. Florentin. The trees above her were bare, Barney knew; the ground was cold and wet with the melting snows; for it was April,—the moon of the breaking snowshoes; and there she was, heavy with the burden beneath her coat—lonely, very weak—stumbling and afraid. "She looked upon the water and seemed to think to cast herself in."

No, she did not think of that, Barney now was sure; or if she did, it was only in a flash of weakness. This woman, his mother, could never have been really weak; she could never have long thought about giving up. The Indian appeared in the canoe and took her in and ferried her across the narrow channel—ajawaodjigade—to the lonely rock where was his hut. There, alone with the Indian woman, she had given birth to her baby,—to him, Barney. She had called him "Dick."

That was the name given in that letter from Huston which had sent him first to Resurrection Rock; now Mrs. Wain had said it too. When his mother did not know she was speaking, she had asked for him by the name of "Dick, her baby; her boy—Dick!" There on the rock, he had been her baby; her lips—those pale lips set firm even in her stupor and which told that she still fought for life—had been soft and young and warm then and kissed him; her hands had held him; her breasts had given him suck. Then she had fallen sick again, and in the autumn, in the moon of the gathering of the wild rice, she had had to go away; but she said she would come back.

For some reason—most probably because that sickness had endured and become more desperate than she had expected—she had been unable to keep her word. But she had tried to come back to him, Barney was very sure. Undoubtedly she had come back to the Rock as soon as she was able; but Noah Jo had departed then, taking her baby; he was lost.

So his mother had set herself to this lifelong task of finding him; for twenty-three years she had searched; she had set the watch upon the Rock; she had built the house there; she had gone about herself. Suddenly Barney started again with hot thrills of joy coursing his veins. He knew his mother now; that is, he knew that once, at least, he had spoken to her and she to him; his hand had been in hers when she was strong and warm. He had never forgotten that! She was that woman of whom he had told Ethel,—the woman who had come to the camp of the Canadians in rest billets near Amiens and had gone about speaking a few words with every man. That was she, his mother; and now Barney knew what she had been doing. She had been searching, then, searching through the armies for him. She had actually found him; but she had not known it then. No more had he. His mother had spoken with him and touched him; and he had spoken with her and taken her hand in his; and neither, then, had known!

But somehow, later, she had found out. For she had been on her way to him in France again when her ship had been torpedoed and she was hurt. On the Gallantic, that was. Ethel's cousin, Agnes, Mrs. Oliver Cullen, had been on the Gallantic. But she had been lost. Drowned? No; that was disputed; lost, only; fate yet unknown.

Now Barney controlled himself to try to think clearly. Mrs. Oliver Cullen was dead; at least every one supposed her dead; yet it was her portrait which, Barney had said, was also the portrait of the woman of the camp at Amiens. How could that be? For that was his mother; and she, though very ill, was alive. How could his mother—the girl who had left him with Noah Jo—have become Mrs. Oliver Cullen? Why, if she had not died on the Gallantic five months ago, did not the Cullens know it? Why had he not known it before?

Yet it was plain that this, his mother, also was Mrs. Oliver Cullen. How else was Mrs. Wain involved; how else had it been Mrs. Oliver Cullen's housekeeper who had brought him here? Oh, yes; the identity was perfectly plain now. The house on Scott Street, where he had been, was his mother's; Mrs. Oliver Cullen had obtained that group photograph of officers because he was in it; his mother was the woman whom Ethel Carew and all this city, it seemed—except Lucas Cullen and had admired and loved as Mrs. Cullen.

Barney stood still gazing at her till he found himself going all weak within for love and pride in her, his mother who had searched for him all his life. He dared not even touch her as she lay there in stupor, battling with death; but he sank to his knees beside her.

"Mother, I said," he whispered, "I said before ever I knew who you were that I never saw a finer face. That was when I saw you only in the portrait. I never forgot that night you came to the camp; Mother! But you were not even then as fine as now. You could do no wrong; you never did wrong! I always knew it; my mother!"

In his ecstasy, triumph came to him,—triumph over all those who, throughout his life, had pitied him for his birth, condemning his mother without knowledge. Always, even when a little boy, Barney had absolved her from sin; as yet he understood no more; indeed, all that he had learned had made the manner of his birth more perplexing to him; but now he knew in his heart that as he had always had faith, his mother had done no wrong.

Some one was opening the door, and Barney gently, arose; but for a moment more, he bent over his mother. So softly as not possibly to stir her, he brought his lips to her hair; then, turning, he confronted a doctor and the nurse. Something was to be done; and Barney withdrew to a vacant room where alone he awaited the result.

Part of the time he prayed for life for his mother, now praying mutely, as in war he had learned to pray, communing with the great, impersonal Imbuement of Life and Good to give his mother strength and to restore her; and then he prayed like a little boy, in the frightened, imploring petition to the jealous I am the Lord, Thy God,—to the Kijé-Manito of his childhood and of Azen Mabo and the Franciscan Fathers. At other moments, he stood listening to the steps in the hallway which might be some one from his mother's room.

At last a surgeon came and told him that "the patient" had gained a little; her pulse and respiration were more favorable. There would probably be "no further change" within twenty-four hours. Nevertheless Barney waited, until late in the evening; there was no further change except that his mother was sleeping more normally; then he went out.