Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 20

Resurrection Rock  (1920)  by Edwin Balmer
And Calls upon a Yellow Canary

CHAPTER XXAND CALLS UPON A YELLOW CANARY

SHE was about twenty, Lucas thought, a supple-limbed young thing with brownish hair which had been carefully "waved" but which rather awry at the present moment; she had dark brows, pencilled and depilated to arch in a narrow, black curve; her lashes evidently had been treated, also; her lips carmined; she had characterless, but not unattractive, gray eyes; a too small but pert nose; a weak, pretty chin and small white teeth which she showed when she parted her lips as she looked up at the tall stranger. She displayed too—and not unintentionally—the whiteness of her neck and shoulders and the roundness of her small, firm busts. She was clad outwardly in a marvellous kimono-like silken garment with much lace and ribbons which she had fastened only at her waist, underneath she wore a half transparent pink blouse of some grotesque pyjama suit, the pantaloons of which extended below her kimono, leaving bare her ankles; her small, slender feet, bare, were thrust into those senseless, heelless satin creations which—Lucas knew—women called "mules." Evidently she had just arisen from bed.

"Smith here?" Lucas demanded of her curtly.

"Who?" said the girl.

"Your—husband. You're Mrs. Smith, I suppose."

The girl snickered. "Don't be silly. You're—" she looked both ways down the hall and then said cautiously "—Mr. Cullen?"

"Eh?" said Lucas, taken a little aback. "You know me, eh?"

"I've heard about you," the girl corrected. "Do you want to come in?" And she opened the door wider.

Lucas entered, and she shut the door. The windows of the room into which he stepped were protected by double shades, both of which were drawn; but a pink encased electric lamp fairly well illumined an expensively papered, imitation walnut trimmed room of good size furnished with tapestried, walnut chairs, table and telephone stand and stool; what evidently was sometimes a lounge to match now had been extended into a double bed, upon one side of which Miss Platt's husband lay with arms stretched out and head thrown back, sleeping heavily.

"Huh!" Lucas ejaculated with deep disgust. "Drunk, too!"

"What you talking 'bout?" the girl rejoined. "I'm not drunk."

"I didn't say you were," Lucas replied, without looking about at her. "I said he was drunk—on top of being here with you."

"Oh!" said the girl, and snickered again unoffended. "Yes; he's got a perfectly rotten stomach for gin; and he does like rickeys." She perched herself unconcernedly on the arm of a chair beside Lucas, displaying even more of her figure; but Lucas did not notice her at all. Though he had talked to Kincheloe several times over the telephone and frequently had sent him money, Lucas had not seen him since he had come to Chicago, and he had never before seen him with his hair mussed, his face bloated and twelve hours' growth of black beard darkening his face.

"Dougherty 'phoned he thought you was on your way," the girl now volunteered to Lucas, "so I tried to give him a rouse; but nothing was doing. Want to smoke?" And she stretched out a gold-plated case filled with slender cigarettes.

Lucas ignored her.

"Aw, take a look, anyway; you paid for it!" she taunted.

Lucas opened a door near the bed and found a bathroom where he pulled a heavy bath towel from a rail and wet it with cold water; he stepped back beside Kincheloe and struck him heavily with the towel first on one side of the head and then upon the other.

"Wake up, you lecherous fool!"

Kincheloe jerked violently and startled awake. "Wha's matter? Stop that; what y'doin', Billie!"

"Cullen's here, Johnnie! That's all!" the girl reassured between puffs at her cigarettes.

"Goo' morning!" Kincheloe now recognized Lucas, who gave him a few moments to further collect himself while Lucas returned to the bathroom and took the door key from the inside and put it in the outside of the lock. Without a word, then, he grabbed the girl by the arm, thrust her into the bathroom and locked the door.

"Look here; what're you doin'?" Kincheloe started up to protest.

Lucas thrust him back in bed. "How much have you told that —— of yours?"

"Told her?" said Kincheloe in alarm. "Nothin'; why? What does she know?"

"She knew me," Lucas accused.

"Oh," said Kincheloe. "I told her you and I were friends; you staked me."

"That all?"

Kincheloe nodded, while wiping with his hands the water from his hair and face. His mind was quickly clearing, and he understood that Lucas Cullen's call meant peril. "What's happened, sir?" he appealed.

"Fool!" said Lucas heartily, not in particular reference to Kincheloe's admitted disclosure but in general comment. "Where do you wish to go? Japan; China? Or South America?"

"Why?" Kincheloe begged, cringing.

"Pretty boy! Pretty boy!" said Lucas in contemptuous pity. The man had no nerve at all; and now that he sat straightened and sobered by fright, he looked not old and bloated, but amazingly immature. He was wearing a striped silk sleeping garment, only less flimsy and feminine than his bedfellow's; and now, in spite of his terror, he reached for his hairbrush from the stand near by and nervously began making his toilet.

"I've brought money for you to go to Japan," Lucas continued, arbitrarily choosing the destination for him. "You are going to start right away—to-night. You go to Vancouver and take a boat to Yokohama. Here's some money for you. You will not receive any more until you get it through Yokohama."

Kincheloe stood up, uncertainly, staring at his master vacantly. He did not see Lucas; he saw, instead, monstrous men about to arrest him; he saw a cell with himself in it; the death watch; gallows. He turned to a mirror and meticulously perfected the part in his hair and smoothed the brushing; he picked up a pink powdered burnisher and polished his well manicured nails; then he looked up again to Lucas, and his jaw dropped and his lips parted loosely. "They're after us!" he whispered. "They're after us!"

"Pup!" said Lucas. "You poor puppy, they can never prove anything; but they may try to make trouble. That's why I came here to save you—"

"Save me!"

"If you were one quarter man," Lucas continued less mercifully, but guarding his voice so as not to be heard at the other side of the bathroom door, "I'd not bother about you. But you're a canary—a yellow canary, dying of fright when the cat comes into the room. They can never hurt you, you fool; but you are going to get out of here. The train to Vancouver to-night; then Yokohama. You'll like Japan and enjoy yourself. Understand they've gone in for vice in the East in ways which may be new even to you. Of course, you'll not be held to Japan; there's China; in fact, most of Asia. I'll take care of you; but you'd better have a more distinctive name than John Smith to address. Let's see." Lucas considered a moment and, taking a blank card from his pocket, he wrote, "Gregory Clerkerton, care of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China." And he handed the inscription to Kincheloe. "That'll always reach you and take care of you; it's branches in Japan—everywhere. Here's two thousand dollars to start. See that it's to-night. Good-by!"

"Good-by," said Kincheloe stupidly. He seemed not aware of his master's departure until he found himse alone in the room, holding in one hand the card with name and bank address and in the other a sheaf of new bills. He counted these mechanically; there were twenty notes of one hundred dollars each.

The girl in the bathroom, who up to this time had remained quiet, began knocking at the door. "Johnnie!" she called.

Kincheloe started about and thrust the card and money into the pockets of his coat which was hanging over the back of a chair; then he went to a drawer for a bottle and drank half a tumbler of raw gin before he unlocked the bathroom door.

"What's the matter between you two?" the girl demanded.

"He thought," said Kincheloe, "he wouldn't come through with any more money; but he did."

"How much?" said the girl.

"Never mind; enough."

"Enough for what?"

"One hell of one good time to-night, Billie! Kiss me!—We're going to have a party; one hell of a party. Kiss me again, Billie—Say, you're all right—you—"

Thus Kincheloe began to disobey. Undoubtedly from the first day of realization of what he had done at Resurrection Rock, he never had believed he long would escape the consequences; he was, as Lucas said, a yellow canary not fit to be chosen for such service as he had performed. And Lucas, having any option, never would have chosen him; but there at St. Florentin he had been the ready instrument at hand. Yet how unfit a man to have killed another! A slayer—a murderer—must summon both courage and contempt for society to keep himself safe; and Kincheloe possessed neither. In his mind, the forces of American justice, instead of being pitifully bungling and stupid and letting the criminal go, became superhuman, inexorable powers; they caught a man sooner or later; and at every moment to the time of his capture, he was being pursued. Moreover, Kincheloe believed in the theory that a hiding man was always safest in a large city; when he attempted to travel, then he was caught. So that night Kincheloe gave his hell of a party, gave it downtown with Billie close at his side; and the city was "wet", very wet indeed, then.

It was some time after two o'clock in the morning when Kincheloe and Billie started to drive "home." Kincheloe was driving his own car, which was a coupé purchased several days earlier with some of the money so readily obtained from Lucas Cullen, Junior. Kincheloe was drunk, and so was Billie. A light, fluffy snowstorm was blowing when Kincheloe skidded his car around a corner and on to Michigan Avenue and "stepped on the gas" for a race north. He had started driving with one arm about Billie; and he had boasted to a friend, as he shut the door, that any one who wanted him would have to travel some that night. So, very drunk and accompanied only by a drowsy girl and certain that officers of the law were after him, he drove north.

At half-past seven on that same morning, Lucas Cullen, Senior, was at breakfast and had finished his daily reading and comment upon Wilson's performance at Versailles, when his eyes roved the less prominent columns to pass over an item headed, "Open Draw Claims Another Victim." His mind was considerably occupied with speculations about Kincheloe whom he supposed to have started northwest last night and accordingly to be nearing Minneapolis. Lucas was thinking it was a good thing to have got the yellow canary out of the way, when his eye picked up the phrases, "Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China." What was that about? "In his pocket, as sole mark of identification, was a card upon which had been written in pencil, 'Gregory Clerkerton, Chartered Bank of—'"

It was under that open draw heading; and the paragraphs, when carefully read, related how a new coupé, very recklessly driven, had dashed up the approach of the Rush Street bridge and the driver, disregarding the danger signals, hurled his car through the barrier and into the river. The bodies were recovered; and there followed very fair descriptions of Miss Platt's husband and the girl who had been with Kincheloe the afternoon before.

Lucas, though no longer reading, held up the newspaper between himself and his wife; he arose from the table, after a few moments, and strolled into the empty smoking room. So Kinchcloe had killed himself! Well, that, in its way, was fair enough. Kincheloe would give no more trouble; and he had ceased to be an element of danger. "No good to any one; never was," Lucas said comfortingly to himself; and he recalled Kincheloe as he lay sleeping off his debauch. But now Lucas also recalled him as he had been at other times,—the handsome and affable, though indolent young man whom Miss Platt's income had attracted; and Lucas's thoughts carved, of their own accord, unwelcome channels. Miss Platt had possessed such alluring income because of her peculiar capacity to serve Lucas Cullen; and Lucas's need of her had come as a result of that crime committed so long ago. How extraordinarily the influence of that persisted, destroying, at last, not only James Quinlan, among others, but entangling and finally snuffing out the poor yellow canary, Kincheloe, and his weak, girlish companion.

Lucas tried to check himself from further ratiocination, but against his own will, his thoughts flowed on. Kincheloe had not been born when Lucas had met James Quinlan at Galilee and sent him thence with the flaming torch; yet, at that meeting, the death of the unborn child had been decreed.

It was somewhat astounding to recount, as Lucas found himself doing, the seemingly never-ending, ever-spreading effect of that meeting, originally intended to accomplish but one limited object and stop there. Lucas did not at all wish to let his wife know that Kincheloe was dead, even though the manner of his death made it easily arguable that he had killed himself in a drunken debauch utterly unconnected with Lucas's affairs. Lucas did not relish the prospect of having Kincheloe in the increasing ranks of the dead who had passed on, directly or indirectly, by his act. A little while ago, to know that one was dead was to know that he was "removed"; but that was the case with Lucas no longer. "J.Q." with his flaming torch, had succeeded in registering himself upon andother's consciousness; might M. K. do the same?

No; Lucas could not think of Kincheloe as being nearly so "safe" for him as though he were in Yokohama; not so safe, perhaps, as Kincheloe had been yesterday here in Chicago. Lucas jerked himself back to practical considerations. Kincheloe, though not yet identified, sooner or later would be, and perhaps, as things stood, it was to Lucas's advantage that it be sooner. Kincheloe—Kincheloe who was dead and yet, in Lucas's mind, less dead than any one who had previously passed on—might appreciate the respect of immediate identification and care. Moreover, that fellow who called himself Loutrelle, and who threatened trouble, had particularly wished to make sure of Kincheloe; and knowledge of Kincheloe's death might halt any plans Loutrelle had on hand.

Lucas waited until his son appeared and, having breakfasted, was ready to start downtown. "This looks to me," said Lucas to Luke, showing the paragraph, "like our friend Kincheloe."

"The name they say," said Luke, "is Clerkerton."

"That was a friend of Kincheloe's," Lucas said. "I've heard him mentioned."

"Oh!" said Luke. "I'll send some one over from the office to identify him."

Accordingly the afternoon newspapers printed the fact that the man lost in the river "with a girl" had been one Merrill Kincheloe, who had been of the household of Lucas Cullen, Senior, now of St. Florentin. Mrs. Kincheloe, who was Mr. Cullen's secretary, was at St. Florentin but had been wired for.

Barney read this item that afternoon; and three days later Ethel, in Sheridan, opened a fat envelope addressed to her in Barney's writing to discover within clippings from Chicago papers which related all the publicly discoverable facts of Kincheloe's life and of the manner of his death. Barney had added only a few lines, saying that he was well and very busy and hoped before long to be able to write to her more fully; he thanked her for the few brief letters she had written him recounting her occupations.

He had made no comment whatever about Kincheloe's death; and though Ethel experienced, with the reading of the clippings, the shock which inevitably comes when one learns of the destruction of a person whom one has known well, yet the succeeding sensation partook of relief. For Kincheloe, even though the tool of her grandfather, had been a murderer and, during her days in Chicago, she had been obliged to think of herself as working for fit punishment for him. To know that he was dead ended for Ethel the sense of recreancy in her duty to proceed against him. Fate or Providence—or Chance, if you chose that appellation—had well disposed of Kincheloe, she thought. Could the same powers be depended upon to punish, also fittingly, her grandfather?

In his case, she thought of those Powers as less impersonal; she thought of the soul of her father, of the boy Bob who had wished Quinlan to tell and then of "J.Q." himself with the flaming torch; and her sense of abandonment of them was lessened by the clear information given in Barney's brief phrases that he was absorbed in the business which they had begun together. This last letter, like the preceding ones, indicated progress and made her long to know and to aid. But she, on her part, was very busy; not only in Sheridan but in traveling about from one of her father's properties to another.

It is a peculiar quality of a lie suggested (and old Lucas knew this peculiarity well) that it finds, in the mind of the hearer, increasing reinforcement for itself when the baldly declared falsity would encounter ever-deepening denial; and so it was that Ethel, alone and with many solitary hours for self-examination, continued, unwillingly, to discover within her reflections new fears that what her grandfather told her was all true, that Barney was Agnes's and her father's son. The very community of cousin Agnes's and her father's interests in these western developments added proof; as she had herself said to her grandfather, cousin Agnes and her father had had no written agreement; they completely understood each other.

When she had fled to the west, it had seemed to her simply in reaction to the instinct for the refuge of "home"; but now that flight had assumed another object which was to preserve, even by the acceptance and use of Uncle Lucas's willing loans, what had been her father's and cousin Agnes's interest in the western properties. Not for her own sake but for Barney! For she knew that either he would find out some time that he was cousin Agnes's son, or she would tell him. She would give him, she planned, also her father's interest. She never said to herself "his" father's; consciously she always refused that; yet she found herself habitually acting as though she had accepted her grandfather's statement entire.

Her Uncle Lucas, of course, learned that the funds, which he had insisted upon forwarding, were being used and, upon one of the rare occasions when a leisure hour at home coincided with his father's, Luke duly reported that fact.

"Ethel seems to be making the grand tour of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho water powers," he said. "The busiest little business woman in the west. You certainly brought her to her senses," Luke admitted ungrudgingly the amazing effect of his father's single interview with Ethel when all the rest of the family had failed. "What did you say to her?"

Lucas had never told; and he only looked knowing.

"When I saw Jaccard to-day, after he'd seen you, he looked," Luke continued, abandoning that quest, "like a cat who'd eaten the canary. What are—" Luke was continuing, but his father had jerked queerly. Lucas did not like to hear about canaries or talk of them since Kincheloe's death; but he could not explain that to Luke.

"What are you two up to?" Luke persisted after a moment. "Your English ruling arrived?"

"Something better than a ruling," boasted Lucas, who had quite recovered himself. "Did you see in the papers to-day that Mrs. Brand, the great English medium, had arrived in New York from London?"

"Yes," said Luke; "why?"

"She's on her way here; we have arranged it. We get our ruling here. You will see!" And Lucas became most laconically mystifying, as was his habit when gestating a plan with which he was particularly pleased. But he pretended to more complete gratification than he was experiencing in these days, when, upon suddenly entering Sarah's and his bedroom, he was likely to find her on her knees before a chair, praying—as he well knew—for him as well as for herself. Often he turned about and went out, ignoring her; sometimes he waited until she arose and then, bending very tenderly, he kissed her; but sometimes, too, he interrupted her by catching her arm, firmly but never roughly, and pulling her to her feet.

"You're getting morbid, Sarah!" he explained unsatisfyingly, when her eyes looked into his. "Morbid!"

Miss Platt's grief also absurdly affected him, though he believed that it could not be sincere; for she knew that Kincheloe had never loved her, and she had never really loved him. She had merely wanted a husband, Lucas said; and Kincheloe had proved himself certainly of the most unworthy sort. Yet Miss Platt now left Lucas's employ.

She had done this before; and indeed, while in Chicago, Lucas had little need of her; but this was termination, not only of her employment, but of all relations between the Cullens and herself. Lucas had not the slightest fear of her failing to keep his confidence; it was solely the insult of her calmly spoken resignation and refusal to discuss reasons for it or conditions of reëmployment. "The insult!" Lucas afterwards repeated hotly to himself.

Did his own son Luke—and also John, who had returned to the city—treat him a little differently since Kincheloe's death? Or did Lucas only imagine it? Probably, Lucas argued with himself, it was because he was overstaying his intended visit; but he did not want to return to St. Florentin; nor did Jaccard wish him to leave Chicago now. So Lucas proposed that Sarah and he go to a hotel, a proposition which young Luke and Myra and all the rest vigorously opposed. Nevertheless Lucas contrarily moved his wife and himself to one of the new hotels near Lincoln Park.

This left him more time to himself to read and to think; and what he continued to read mostly were those irritating, self-undermining books which he had bought at McClurg's; and his meditations dwelt on the same topics which also became a source of discussion between Jaccard and himself.