Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 2

CHAPTER IIA STRANGER ARRIVES

THE Iron and Copper Country Espress from Chicago for Lake Superior and Sault Sainte Marie—operated by the government upon this January day, 1919—was nearing Escanaba almost on time in spite of the difficulty of making steam against a north wind and in a night temperature of twenty-two below zero. On time was four-forty in the morning; the hour made no difference to the passengers for the Keweenaw mines, as they could remain asleep while their Pullmans were switched to another engine which would speed them on to Marquette and Calumet; but the car which carried the passengers for the "Soo" stopped at Escanaba. Those who were in no hurry could sleep in the car till seven o'clock; but if one had urgent business in the north, it was necessary to rise and change cars in the frigid darkness to the train of day coaches which went on at ten minutes to five.

There were three people in the Escanaba car who were in such a hurry upon this particular morning; accordingly the porter's alarm clock went off at quarter past four, and the old negro sat up from his doze upon the smoking-room seat, shivering and feeling for the heat in the steam pipes and scratching his gray poll while he recounted who were to be called.

"Ol' Crusty—lo'ar five," he muttered to himself. "De captain—lo'ar nine; and Miss Ethel—dat's right; she said shore to wake her," he assured himself, as though his memory in her respect was to be questioned, "in lo'ar four."

He arose and brushed up and, proceeding to lower five, he thrust in a hand and vigorously shook a fat, flabby thigh. The voice of a traveling man, who had catalogued himself with the porter as "old Crusty," put up the expected objection.

"Heh! What's matter?"

"Time to git up, suh!"

"Where are we?"

"Near to Bark River, boss."

"Huh! Why didn't you call me sooner?"

The porter passed on, without argument, to lower nine, where his hand through the curtains grasped a lithe, firm, muscular leg. "De captain"—brevetted by the porter a full grade higher than the single silver bar on his coat claimed—had been sound asleep; but he roused to the touch as to reveillé.

A dark, well-shaped head looked out, and a pleasant, vigorous voice, with that peculiar quality of maturity which comes to a young man who has been put in places of command, said:

"Hello! Oh; I remember. Thanks."

"Yo're very welcome, captain, suh; yo've half an hour befo' Escanaba."

"Just right," the young man said; his gray eyes looked up at the porter as he spoke. The negro smiled; the young man blinked a bit, drew back into his berth and began dressing. The porter, feeling better, returned to the other end of the car where was Miss Ethel's berth, and hesitated.

Ethel Carew was the whole name of the girl hidden by the curtains of lower four. She was a young lady of twenty-two now; but the porter, who had been on that "run" for many years, knew her when she was a child—a fair, violet-eyed, light-haired little girl from the west who traveled from Chicago with her uncles and aunts—Mr. and Mrs. John Cullen or Mr. and Mrs. Lucas Cullen—to visit her grandfather at St. Florentin.

She had no mother, it developed; and her father, for some reason, never made the trip from Chicago to Escanaba but always was out home in Wyoming. Yet she seldom had passed a year without a journey north and south along the lake—accompanied always by one of the Cullens and always traveling in luxury, with a drawing-room and a section for every extra member of the party.

This trip, however, was different. For Miss Ethel had appeared entirely unaccompanied upon the platform at Chicago last evening; and she had been carrying her own handbag. The porter, greeting her and seizing the handbag, had made at once for the drawing-room, but only to find, as she followed him, that she had a ticket for lower four.

"Fix you up wid de drawing-room now, Miss Ethel," he whispered to her after the train had started, and the room at the end proved to be unsold.

She thanked him but said that a lower would do very well.

"Not even a section; jes' de lower," the old man ruminated as he moved reluctantly away; and he observed her during the evening with concerned interest. After her visit to the dining car—which was mighty brief for a young lady who looked so well and ought to have a good appetite—she asked for a table; and she took a great sheaf of worrisome looking papers from her traveling bag and bothered over them all evening, finally writing two letters which she gave him and told him to be sure to mail at Fond du Lac. Then she went to bed, leaving a call for ten minutes after four!

When he polished her stout, little tan boots in the night, he observed that they were sound only by grace of resoling and mending; and her overcoat, which he had hung up for her, was of common, heavy wool. Vanished this year was the coat of soft fur which she had worn before in winter.

The porter tapped gently and unwillingly upon the wood partition at the head of lower four. The girl within, who had been lying awake beside her black, uncurtained window, looking up at the bright, winter stars, replied and instantly stirred herself; she drew down the shade, closed the window which she had left open at her feet and turned on her light. Whatever were the reflections and speculations which had been holding her the moment before, she dismissed them; and whereas she had scarcely been conscious of particularly observing the young man in section nine the evening before, this morning she noticed with interest that he also was getting up.

He was on his way home from France, she had heard him say last night in answer to a question; they were in southern Wisconsin then; so Ethel had not thought particularly about his destination. But this morning it was plain that his home must be in the sparsely settled land which she knew well, the region of lake and forest, bays and islands near the Straits; and the more she noticed him this morning, the more she wondered to which of the little towns and villages he was going. Last night, when she casually considered him, she had classified him as much the same sort of young man as she usually met at her uncles' homes in Chicago,—young men who had possessed from birth assured places and definite advantages. But this morning, as the train neared Escanaba, and she and the "captain" stood together on the platform of the Pullman, she received quite a different impression; others had not insured advantage to this young man; he had had to do for himself, she was quite sure; he had known hard work and meager living here in the north.

She watched him as he rubbed the frost from the glass of the door and then, after looking about to see if she minded and receiving her shake of head in return, he stooped and lifted the platform stop and opened the Pullman door. The keen, cold wind swept in, scented of the forests, and away to the east lay, vaguely, the sheen of the ice-sheet over Green Bay. The "captain" drew a deep breath of air and stepped back a little, his shoulders pulling up and his hands unconsciously clenching at his sides. The train was pulling into the station now, and the porter appeared, carrying Ethel's handbag and the "captain's" suit case. The Soo train which was to continue the journey north was standing upon another track; and the porter immediately took the hand baggage to it. But Ethel walked on the platform beside the cars. The dark-haired young man had started to get on board but, after a question to the brakeman, he got down from the step and came forward near Ethel in search of the conductor.

"St. Florentin?" she heard the conductor repeat. "No; never heard of it."

"They hadn't in Chicago either," the young man said. "But I told them it was near the Straits, and they said that some one here would know."

"Not me; but I'm new here. Better try in the station," the conductor suggested.

"I've time?"

"Think so," the conductor said doubtfully.

Ethel turned about quickly and moved nearer. The evident fact that the young man did not know the place where he was going upset her theory of him; but he was asking about St. Florentin.

"I can tell you about St. Florentin," she offered. "It's the name of an old mill town which hasn't been on the map for twenty years, I reckon. It's near Quesnel; you take this train and get off there; then it's ten miles across country."

The young man bared his head, and his pleasant gray eyes lighted a little with excitement.

"You know it! Thank you!" he said. "That's just what I wanted to know."

"If you're going to St. Florentin," Ethel continued to volunteer impulsively, "you must be going to see my grandfather."

"Why?"

"Because he's the only man—except his servants—who lives there. It's a deserted village, except for his house."

"His name is Bagley?"

"No; Cullen—Lucas Cullen."

"Then there's no one named Bagley?"

"Not that I've ever heard of."

"Or Carew?"

Ethel started a little. "My name is Carew."

"It is! Then your father's there—or is going to be there, Miss Carew?"

"My father has not been in St. Florentin for more than twenty years," Ethel said. "And now—my father was with a regiment of engineers," she explained, more fully than she meant to a moment before. Knowledge about St. Florentin and about some one of her name seemed to be extremely important to this stranger. "He was killed last June."

The young man motioned quickly with a gesture of self-rebuke for his question. "I was stupid," he said, "thinking only about my affairs."

"You did not know about my father," Ethel returned in his defense.

"No; I didn't know he was your father; but his name it was Philip Carew?"

"Yes."

"It came to me in a way which should have let me know."

She wanted to ask from whom it came, but he was inquiring further.

"There will be some one else there named Carew?"

"I am going there," Ethel said.

"And there is a place called the Resurrection? Or some church called that, perhaps? You will excuse me, Miss Carew; but I've been trying a long time to find some one who knows about St. Florentin."

"There's an island," Ethel said, "about half a mile off shore and not far from my grandfather's called Resurrection Rock."

"There is, then!" he cried, this information so amazingly stirring him that Ethel volunteered:

"It's rightly called Isle de la Resurrection. That's the old name from Jesuit and Indian times. But it's not much of an island; just a few acres, mostly rock."

"What is on the island; a town?"

"A house," Ethel replied. "Only one house."

"Do you know who lives there?"

"No one lives there. No one has ever lived in the house; it's been empty since it was built."

"That's strange!"

"It is—very."

"But surely you can tell me something more about that."

"Why, I would if I could; but that's all I know about the house on Resurrection Rock. Just that it's there and closed."

"Let's see," he said, and he was breathing fast, she saw, as he gazed down at her; he opened his coat and was fumbling in an inner pocket when the bell of the engine and the call of the brakeman warned that the train was to start. They had wandered together half a car length from the step; and, as the train moved, he seized her arm to steady her while she ran; he half lifted her to the car step and swung on after her. She entered the coach and, proceeding up the aisle until she found where the porter from the Pullman had left her bag, she sat down beside it. The dark-haired young man halted next her; he seemed, in the last few moments, to suddenly realize the strangeness of his questions; but she thought that he had, at first, an impulse to ask her something more. But he did not; he merely said formally, "Quite all right? Have everything?"

She answered affirmatively, and he went to the seat far forward where he found his suit case and where he dropped down and sat as though dazed by his discoveries of the last minutes. People were moving in the aisle, and they shut him from Ethel's view; when she glanced at him a little later, he seemed to be intently studying some document which he held before him,—a paper from his pocket, the girl thought. He interrupted this study, suddenly, to turn about and look back at Ethel; and again she was sure that he wished to return to her. But he waited; and the next moment one of his neighbors seized the opportunity to talk with a soldier just back from France; the man sat down beside him; and, as they talked, a group of others of the war-curious gathered.

Ethel leaned back, still stirred a little from her share in the peculiar event which had so surprisingly agitated him. It was plain that the fact of there being a place in the peninsula called St. Florentin—and near it an island called Resurrection Rock—had been, at the same time, incredible and of overwhelming importance to him. Also he possessed her father's name in some connection with that place,—her father, whom he had supposed to be living but whose name, he recollected, had been mentioned in a way which should have made him guess that her father was dead. His errand certainly was altogether unusual and suggestive of developments, of what sort she could not yet figure, but which might most powerfully affect the outcome of her own visit to St. Florentin this day.

A difficult visit that was to be, even at its best, she knew; for she was bound to St. Florentin to ask her grandfather to do the thing which, of all conceivable acts, he was least likely to do: to forward her money to the amount of many hundred thousands of dollars without security and with little likelihood of receiving it back. Moreover, since her father's death, she realized that in a way she had become the inheritor of his quarrel with her grandfather.

What was the cause of the quarrel, Ethel never knew; but she had known the fact of the trouble between grandfather and his brother John—and that her own father was on the side against grandfather—as long as she had known anything. That was as long ago as when she and her father used to live in the old, rough, low-roofed ranch house near the north fork of the Powder River where, they told her, she had been born.

She must have been about five when she realized that the picture of "mamma" which was always in her father's room represented some one who not only had loved papa and Ethel but who also had loved a papa and mamma of her own and a sister, a good deal like her, who was living far away in a meaningless place called France and two brothers who had big houses in a city called Chicago which was as much bigger than Cheyenne as Cheyenne was bigger than Buffalo. Ethel's interrogations as to when she might see that lady who was like mamma, and also mamma's papa and mamma, evoked only indefinite replies at first; but at last her father took her on a train and traveled with her many days till they came to New York where Ethel had the unforgetable experience of living for a week aboard a huge boat while it carried her to a country not at all like Wyoming or New York, but which was called France and where she was told to call everything and every one by strange, interesting names.

She lived in a most wonderful house, called a château, with her aunt Cecilia and uncle Hilaire. Her father did not stay there at all but returned at once to Wyoming. At the end of the year, aunt Cecilia—who had no child of her own—brought her to New York where her father met her. Ethel remembered that first visit to France better than the second one three years later; aunt Cecilia was very pretty and kind and interesting, but she had queer ideas, such as that a little girl might be afraid of big horses and that boys—not girls—climbed trees and that one should never go bare-headed into the sunlight. Ethel's later visit was memorable chiefly because it was at the château that she first met her uncle Lucas, of Chicago, and aunt Myra and her cousins, Julia and Bennet. They took Ethel back to America with them and brought her to Chicago; thus she met her uncle John and aunt Margaret and her grandfather and grandmother.

She was eight, then, and quite able to understand that such a delay in making the family acquaintance was not customary. And the separation of her father from her mother's immediate family was made more marked—rather than less so—by the circumstances that he was on terms of close friendship with her mother's cousin, Oliver, who, like her father, had as little as possible to do with the other Cullens. Cousin Oliver had to have business relations with them, as the whole family owned land and mines together; but he and his wife never visited at uncle Lucas's or uncle John's.

The cause was not to be inquired about in Chicago, Ethel understood. But at home in Wyoming, she used to ask her father about it all.

"Why, we couldn't get along together, dearie; so we stopped trying," was all he ever would say. "But you mustn't have trouble with your mother's people, whom you love and who love you."

Ethel recognized this for an evasion; and she believed that when she was older, he would tell her more. But if he had intended to, he did not; and Ethel found herself accustomed to accept the strange situation. She had become fond of her people who showed her only their kindly and pleasant and generous side and who insisted upon claiming her for their own. Of course, after a time, she read and heard ugly reports about her grandfather; but she would not credit them. She thought he might have done some things which her father would not do; but she did not believe he had been as bad as people said. If he had, why didn't they put him in jail?

It was not until this last summer that she saw anything of the unpleasant side of her grandfather and of her uncles; for, after her father had been killed and her cousin Oliver had died, she had undertaken to carry out her father's agreements with his business associates and to meet his obligations.

The attempt had involved letters to her grandfather and visits to her uncles in search of aid; and quickly she came to realize that the quarrel between her father and them no longer was to be ignored but that it was to underlie all her own relations with them.

And how was that remarkable, unopened house upon the Rock—about which her grandfather talked so much—connected with them? Or with her? What was its meaning to them? She had never thought of it as having important meaning; it had seemed merely an intrusion, an impertinence. But the encounter with the young man who was going there and who had her father's name stirred new speculations.