Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 23
CHAPTER XXIIIIN THE MOON OF THE BREAKING SNOWSHOES
ETHEL CAREW was on a train returning to Sheridan from a trip of several days through Montana and Idaho, when she happened to pick up a twenty-hour-old newspaper which printed, under a Chicago date line, the information that Mrs. Oliver Cullen—the wife of the late son of the late John Cullen of Chicago and herself widely known throughout the East—had returned to her home after having been missing for many months. Her family and friends had supposed her lost on the Gallantic, in September, 1918; but she had survived and, by concealing this fact, had created, by her return, a sensation in Chicago circles.
This was all that the paragraph of telegraphed news matter supplied, and it was quite enough for Ethel to learn at one moment.
"Barney's mother," she exclaimed to herself; and with her amazement of wonder as to what cousin Agnes had been doing and where she had been, there ran a rill of excited feeling for Barney. Did he know, she wondered? Where was he? What was it all about—cousin Agnes alive and concealing herself! It was too much to grasp at once, particularly with this total lack of explanatory details.
She immediately wrote telegrams which she had dispatched from the next stop, one to Barney and the other to Mrs. Wain, asking them to wire her at Sheridan. But before she reached her home, she obtained a more recent newspaper which supplemented the Butte item with the brief information that "Following the sensational reappearance yesterday of Mrs. Oliver Cullen, Mr. Lucas Cullen, Senior, had disappeared from his hotel; his family is searching for him."
Waiting her at home, she found telegraphed replies stating that letters were on the way; indeed, two letters, written since the return of Mrs. Oliver Cullen, already had arrived.
The one from Barney was exasperatingly short and indefinite. It confessed, first, that ever since the day after Ethel had returned to Wyoming, he had known that his mother was alive and that she was Mrs. Oliver Cullen; he told how Mrs. Wain had taken him to his mother and related something of his experience since; but he said little about cousin Agnes's reasons for concealing herself, what she had been doing and what she meant now to do. He said nothing whatever about his father. Why didn't he? His letter was not meant for information; it was an appeal to her to return to St. Florentin; or rather to Resurrection Rock, where he was going with his mother and where, if Ethel came, they would tell her everything.
Cousin Agnes had enclosed a card on which she had written, "Come, dear Ethel, when you can. Agnes."
Bennet, who was the author of the other letter, offered far more. He had written a volume of twenty-two pages requiring a big, business envelope and five stamps. He had prefaced his informative pages, however, with extensive expletive. In Bennet's emphatic opinion, Ethel had certainly succeeded in spilling the beans; he wished to congratulate her; if ever a family had been in bad, theirs was now. But he had to confess that cousin Agnes had staged some show; the town was talking about it from Lake Forest to Indiana, and the rich, racy gossips were only beginning to get around, too.
Of course, Bennet said, the dear newspapers had faithfully done their bit; but as cousin Agnes's oration had been entirely informal—no court actions yet started, no one legally indicted—the papers couldn't repeat a tenth of what they really wanted to without laying themselves open to libel actions. It was breaking the hearts of the sob-squads and the society reporters but never mind; only the bourgeoisie was being deprived; every one who was anybody knew all that had happened and more too.
Ethel read two sheets of this and skipped a third before she began finding out what cousin Agnes had actually done and where she had made her oration. On the next pages, however, Bennet reported with creditable completeness "Marc Anthony's address over the body of Ceasar"—as Bennet called it; and he added such comments and interpolations as:
"And after this, to show that the family was still running true to form, she said a little piece about the murder of Quinlan . . . then, in order to buck up the good name and general reputation of the Cullens, she spilled a little about aunt Cecilia and uncle Hilaire. She made it official, absolutely, that he had come into our family only for money; he'd been in love with Agnes. In fact, he'd married her; or made her think he had; uncle Hilaire had been her husband first and is the father of her son, your friend, Loutrelle—"
The letter blurred in Ethel's hand, and things spun about her. Barney—her Barney—not her father's son; cousin Agnes's, yes; and Hiļaire de Chenal's!
"Barney," she cried, lifting to her lips his letter which she had let drop before. "My—my Barney, I'm coming to you!"
The next day she started and, not visiting Chicago this time, her way lay through Minneapolis direct to the Straits, picking up the Chicago-Sault Ste. Marie line just above Escanaba and following about the northern points of Greenbay and on east into the narrowing peninsula over the same road which Barney and she had traveled upon their first morning of acquaintance.
In contrast to the coldness of that snowy day, everything was green and warm, with the sun glowing in a clear, still sky.
Ethel had had no need to change cars upon this occasion, yet she had awakened earlier than upon the morning in January; indeed, though she had gone to bed early in the hope of soon dropping asleep so that instantly the night would pass, her excitement and suspense so stimulated her that she slept but brokenly. She dressed shortly after dawn and, after breakfast, waited intolerable hours until, marvellously, the porter at last called "Quesnel," and the train shrieked and stopped.
Barney was there; he had his two hands out for her as she came down the step. He had never known why, so suddenly and so cruelly, she had fled from him; but he did not care now that she was back; besides, he saw by her great joy how cruel the past weeks had been to her. She came down, giving him both her hands; so they clung together, gazing at each other, each searching, half fearfully, for some evidence of inward change; each finding none and both trembling with happiness. Then they remembered other people.
Asa Redbird was there, having driven Barney over with a team and a buckboard; and after Ethel had spoken to the Indian and while he was carrying her bags to the buckboard and while she still supposed they were all to drive to the lake together, she appealed to Barney: "Oh, why did you bring Asa? Can't we drive back alone?"
"You'd rather? Or would you, by any chance, care about walking with me—"
"Barney; I thought all night about doing that!"
"Did you? Then you're not too tired, dear?"
So they sent Asa ahead, and side by side and hand in hand, as soon as they were out of sight of others, they set off down the St. Florentin road together.
"Barney, how's cousin Agnes—your mother!"
"In remarkably good shape, considering everything. She's had a total of seven operations; but the last is over now. You'll see her soon."
"What a terribly hard thing she did!"
"At Mrs. Stanton-Fielding's."
"What do you know about that?"
"Oh, Barney, Bennet wrote me everything."
"He did? I wondered what he'd do; he's a good sort at bottom."
"Barney; about grandfather? What happened to him?"
"How much have you heard, Ethel?"
"Just that he left his hotel and hasn't been heard of."
"No one knows more; nothing's been seen of him since that afternoon."
"She returned here to St. Florentin day before yesterday," Barney said very gently. "She wouldn't let any one come with her; she thought if she was here alone, with just the Indians, he might come back to her."
Ethel's eyes filled. "That's like grandmother. You've seen her here, Barney?"
"I stopped in yesterday to thank her for a cake and jelly she'd made with her own hands and sent out to the Rock for mother."
"Dearest, isn't she—wonderful?"
"Your grandmother? Yes."
"I knew it; but I meant—your mother."
Barney halted, and she stopped before him; they were in a little bower of trees and leafing bushes, with birds whistling and chirping. He looked into her eyes, and she saw that he wanted to tell her a part of what he was feeling but when he looked away from her and down, she knew he could not.
"A mother," he said, "is rather a great institution."
It caught at her heart as a more conscious expression could not have done.
"I knew, dear, that cousin Agnes was your mother before I went away."
He looked up at her. "Yes; I'd supposed so."
"But that was not why I went, Barney. Now I can tell you why. It was—horrible, Barney. I never really believed it but—but, you see, the next morning after that night we—we loved, dear, and you'd held me and I'd been yours, grandfather came to me and told me that cousin Agnes was your mother and your father was—mine."
His hand jerked from hers in recoil. "What?"
"I tell you I didn't believe it; but he said—you see, I couldn't know; and I couldn't be with you again without knowing."
"No; of course not."
"It was his low, ghastly lie to separate us. Can you kiss me now, Barney?"
"How I want to!" But he stood away from her, his hands locked behind him as that night they had loved; and she saw, as she met his eyes, how her flight had hurt her boy from the Indian shack in the woods. "This time, Ethel, if I have you, I must keep you."
"I came back to stay, Barney."
Yet he only clasped her hand, as before, when they went on; and she knew that, having once lost her, he dared not claim her again until she heard from his mother all there was to know.
Perhaps he had realized this as little as had she; for both now wished haste rather than delay, delightful as that was; so when they found Asa waiting with his team, they chose to drive the rest of the way, passing the fork of the road to St. Florentin to continue to Wheedon's beach.
"I'll see grandmother to-day," Ethel decided, as she gazed up toward the old house, "but first, cousin Agnes."
A cedar boat of Asa's own reliable manufacture was pulled up on the sand to ferry them, ajawaodjigade, to Resurrection Rock.
"We've a motor boat, but I thought this morning you'd like the tchiman," Barney said.
"I couldn't go out in anything else," Ethel replied; and, looking back at the beach, both thought of Madame Davol's story of the girl who had come there alone long ago in the Moon of the Breaking Snowshoes.
"What Mrs. Davol told us was true," Barney said.
They went to the landing on the south of the rock, climbed the steps and entered the great room, now warm and streaming with sunlight, where Barney's mother was waiting,—a strange, physically weakened cousin Agnes but whose touch seemed more vital than ever before as her lips kissed Ethel; whose hands, though thin, clasped with a confident pressure; whose eyes looked at Ethel steadily as ever, with some new sadness in them but with new joy, too, and with that haunting shadow quite gone.
She told to Ethel, for herself, everything which Bennet already had repeated and then related the events following Barney's birth here on Resurrection Rock.
She had stayed here with her baby during the summer, for she had regained strength slowly. In September she realized that she was in desperate need of surgical care. It had been fair and warm in that Moon of the Gathering of Wild Rice. Her baby was well; Noah Jo's wife, Woman of the Valley, had proved very careful and had been doing for the baby just as Agnes asked. Every evening Noah Jo brought fresh milk from the shore. Agnes had become so ill that she scarcely was able to travel, much less trust herself with the care of her child on the journey.
Later, it was easy to see that she should have taken the baby to some dependable white people or arranged for his care at some institution. But an institution was what Agnes most dreaded; and she feared to let any white people know that she had a baby; for was she not without a husband and obviously an unfit person to rear a child? So she had left her baby with Woman of the Valley and journeyed alone to Sault Sainte Marie where they had kept her in bed, not a few days but weeks. She tried to escape the well-meant vigilance; and when she almost succeeded, it was with such calamitous effects that she had more weeks in bed from pneumonia; and when at last she returned to the Rock, it was deserted.
The neighboring Indians said that Noah Jo had perhaps gone to Kettle River or to L'Arbre Croche or, maybe, to Cross Village, or, perhaps into Superior to the Minnesota Indians. So she spent agonizing weeks in vain pursuit of this guess and then of that. Her money was all gone; sometimes she begged loans from strangers who pitied her; often she worked, menially, for wages enough to let her go on with her search. Then she heard that Noah Jo and his wife had been lost on the lake in a November storm.
She went to Chicago shortly after that to resume her effort to get her father free and to punish, if she could, the man who had taken away her father and was responsible for the situation which had caused the loss of her son. She soon obtained a position in John Cullen's office. He then was on bad terms with his brother because of his knowledge of some of Lucas's methods; but he would not proceed against his brother, and when he discovered that Agnes Dehan was Drane's daughter, he dismissed her. But Oliver already was in love with her; though she told him all about herself and about her child whom she had lost, he persisted in his wish to marry her. He turned against his uncle even more violently than had his father; he actively went about gathering evidence to free Richard Drane; and he spent much effort and money in search of Agnes's child.
Oliver did not make public accusation of his uncle, but he did accuse him to his family. The sons sided with their father; but Deborah and her husband, who had his own reasons for lacking respect for Lucas, aligned themselves with Oliver and Agnes. But they never could do anything effective. Lucas defied them; Quinlan could not condemn Lucas without hanging himself; so Agnes's father died in jail. And the years passed with no trace of Agnes's son.
But Oliver and she continued the search; they bought Resurrection Rock and set a watch there in case Noah Jo should return. When Hilaire de Chenal ran through his wife's money and could get no more from Lucas and placed his château on the market, Agnes bought it and broke it up and brought over the great salon to install in the house she built upon Resurrection Rock. She raised this as a constant rebuke to Lucas Cullen for what he had done; and as her gage of defiance to him. He did not know whose it was or what was its purpose until he saw in it that great room torn from his daughter's château and knew that his enemy had brought it there to be her son's. For, as the years went by, Agnes became firm in the belief that, in spite of the failure of the search, her boy lived.
When the war came, she knew he was of age so she visited the camps where the nation gathered its young men; at a camp in France she actually exchanged a few words with a reticent boy named Loutrelle, from Charlevoix county, Michigan, and upon her return to America, she received word from Boyne that an Indian named Mabo had brought up a white boy who had once been in the possession of a Chippewa fisherman named Jo, and that this boy, who had taken the name Barney Loutrelle, had joined the Canadian army and now was with the American forces.
Agnes immediately sailed for England, and, when the Gallantic was torpedoed, she was brought to London apparently injured fatally.
She had been grouped with the injured from another vessel, torpedoed at the same time, and consequently had been wrongly identified. But she was unaware of this, until after several days she was able to send for Marcellus Clarke, who was in England. From him she learned that her husband was dead and buried, and that his uncle was claiming all the family properties.
As she had previously drawn a will in favor of her son, in case her husband did not survive her, she now had her survivorship proved to protect Barney's interest, if she died; but she withheld from announcement the fact that she was alive.
"I don't think I then knew why, Ethel," this strange motherly cousin Agnes was saying. "I just did; perhaps I realized that I might accomplish more, as dead, than I had living. But I wasn't thinking a great deal about other people. Mr. Clarke told me that he," she looked toward her son whose hand she clasped, "was in London; he'd been wounded again. I thought I had to send for him; but—"
"She didn't," Barney helped her out, "because she was in such bad shape that she thought I shouldn't see her, when I was hurt, myself."
"And I knew they were going to send you to fight again! My boy, how could I know how you'd been thinking of your mother? How could I want you to carry me in your mind as I was then? Besides, the doctors thought I was about to die; I did not see how I could bear having you for once and—go. So I tried to arrange some way to be with you always, now that I'd found you, whether I was living or dead, and have influence in your life.
"I knew of several remarkable experiences in spiritism, and when I learned that he had gone to Mrs. Brand, I sent for her to ask what I might do, before I died, which would give me power after death to remain close to my son," Agnes continued to Ethel. "She said perhaps if I opened a channel now, I might find it useful later. I told her a little about him and myself. It seems that when she was in a trance at his next sitting with her, she was able to repeat to him not only what I told her but other things I hadn't mentioned."
"She certainly gave me a jump," Barney said and pressed his mother's hand.
"Then through that channel came the messages from your father, dear."
Ethel drew closer. "Then they were all from father?"
"I had nothing to do with them—except perhaps starting the current of our affairs flowing through the channel. Some people might say that all that followed were telepathic thoughts from me. But I did not know anything about those messages till December after the armistice, when Mr. Clarke went to France to find him—" she held more tightly to Barney's hand—"and bring him to me. Mr. Clarke found that he had got his discharge and sailed for America in response to a letter received from his friend, Huston Adley, in London. I sent for Huston and amazed to discover that your father—apparently—had established communication and had sent my son to Resurrection Rock and had mentioned that there would be some one named Bagley who was a man actually in Mr. Clarke's employ and used on private business.
"Mr. Clarke found you," she turned to Barney, "were on a slow transport—"
"Never slower than that trip, mother."
"So he sent a letter by fast mail boat with an order on Wheedon to give Bagley the keys and telling Bagley to open the house and wait for you. As soon as possible, I was taken to a boat and was on the water when Huston received the third message, which he sent to you, Ethel, on Scott Street. A copy of his letter reached me in New York where I was in a hospital."
"Then you couldn't have sent that!"
"Some would say, Ethel, that Mrs. Brand telepathically could tap my dream strata two thousand miles off as well as a few squares away; and it was true that all this time I was thinking about the Rock and Bagley, and about you and about him and about Quinlan and his grandson, Bob, and all the rest."
"But the events, Cousin Agnes."
"They could be called coincidences."
"Do you believe they were?"
"What's one more opinion, dear? You knew your father."
"All my life," Ethel said, "it seemed to me he wanted to do something—and could not."
"He wanted," Agnes replied, "to take open and public action against your grandfather; but he never had evidence upon which to proceed. After your mother died, he decided to keep silent, though he would have nothing to do with your mother's family. He took several trips in the Minnesota and Wisconsin Indian districts to get trace of my boy."
"Did he, when alive, know James Quinlan?"
"He several times tried to get Quinlan to confess. If he continued, after his life, to know about affairs here, he might have observed that Quinlan had been broken by the death of his grandson in flames following the loss of his own son in the Iroquois fire."
"Then father sent Quinlan to the Rock?"
Agnes looked to her son. "You weren't sure, were you, that Quinlan meant to go to the Rock?"
"No. You remember he was in the neighborhood when we got here," Barney reminded Ethel.
"Your grandfather was excited about it; Quinlan may have had some vague idea of doing for your grandfather; and your uncle warned your grandfather. Maybe Quinlan went to the Rock only because he'd seen lights there. But your grandfather didn't know how much, or how little was up. He sent Kincheloe to find out; and I've always figured Kincheloe got frightened and killed old Quinlan without much reason.
"I know no more about that," Agnes went on. "I was in New York and was not brought to Chicago till the next week. The London letters, and the stir in the supernatural, began making a plan for me. With no other idea than to strengthen the belief that I was dead, I had had Huston manipulate a report of a message from my spirit; this reached the Cullens, and when they took it as they did, my way was easier. Of course I wanted to justify my father; but he was dead and forgotten by every one but me. I wanted to punish Lucas Cullen, but he is near the grave; what most I wanted was—my son! And Lucas Cullen was the only living witness of the truth of how he came honorably to be mine! I had to make Lucas Cullen attest that truth; I knew no other way!"
Barney bent over and kissed her. "That's all now, mother."
"You understand, Ethel?"
"Your father, Cousin Agnes, and Henry Laylor—were they at that sitting; or had you told Mrs. Brand about them before?"
Agnes shook her head. "No; but I was thinking about them. Some would say they came only from my mind."
"I wouldn't," Ethel said.
She canoed with Barney to the mainland that afternoon, beaching near Asa Redbird's cabin close to the point where she had followed Kincheloe out upon the ice; and they took the old path through the woods to St. Florentin. Barney accompanied Ethel to the big house but let her go in alone to find her grandmother.
Mrs. Singlewolf informed her that the old lady was taking a nap; but if this were true, Sarah Cullen's slumbers were light; quickly she was at the head of the stairs calling hopefully down, "Who has come in?"
Ethel replied and ran up and gathered the thin little figure in her arms.
"There, there, Debsie," Sarah petted her daughter's child and it was Sarah who comforted Ethel when they cried. "My boy's gone away but to come back, child. The Lord holds him in his hand and 'he that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.' . . . I have been studying to-day, Debsie, the ninety-first psalm. Shall we read it together?"
Barney waited outside for a long hour during which Sam Green Sky often interrupted his formal efforts in the garden to offer interested comment or question.
"Damn funny business, 'bout this place now," Sam informed. "Somebody killed out there, huh? Kincheloe been killed down in Chicago, everybody say; who done that to him?"
"Nobody," said Barney. "That was an accident."
"Huh?" said Sam doubtfully. "Perhaps you tell me when old man come back?"
"I don't know," Barney admitted.
"Two day ago," said Sam, "old lady say old man come back wabang (to-morrow). Say come back wabang yesterday; to-day he come back wabang. When anybody ketch up with wabang, I like to know?"
Barney made no reply to this philosophical query, and Sam stood gazing about musingly and whistled cheerfully to himself. "Old woman all right, you think? Sure to go to heaven?"
"Old man akiwesiish, eh? Sure to go to hell! But all good old woman, sure to go to heaven, think about is bad old man, sure to go to hell. How anybody fix up that?"
Barney did not attempt the task.
When at last Ethel appeared from the house, he took her quickly away from the curious scrutiny of the Chippewa gardener. Near the lake they climbed a little hillock wooded with new pine and balsam and cedar, where the slanting rays of the warm sun had dried the softly carpeted ground. Ethel sank down and, as Barney sat beside her, he saw tears again wetting her cheek.
"I'm not crying," she denied, when he tried to comfort her. "Barney, I'm so proud of grandmother. I've seen the finest thing in the world just now."
"I know," Barney said. "Even Sam was speaking to me of her—love."
"She doesn't think of herself at all, but only of him—constantly. She prays for him, but she never blames or judges him; she speaks—and I believe she thinks—of only the fine things about him and when they were young together. He loves her too, you know; he was always good to her and faithful. She'd go to him wherever he is, if she could. Love—Barney, it frightens you to see what it can become, how wholly one person can join with another, what complete power over another's happiness one can gain—she was telling me about their first home; it was a cabin in a clearing. They got a cow and a little calf, and when she called them in at night, deer and the fawns used to come up to the bars with the calf to get grain. It was so wild where they were; and they were alone. She wants to see you to-morrow, Barney, if you care to come."
"Yes; I told her we—"
"What do we, Barney?"
"Love you, I do. Ethel, you're not afraid?"
"Of your power over me?"
"You've had every power over me, Ethel, since our first day!"
He put his arm about her, drawing her to him; but for a moment she held back to look into his eyes. "I didn't mean the sight of grandmother's love made me afraid, dear. To know it made me want you as never before!"
Later, as they walked down the wood road to Wheedon's, "Sing, Barney," she commanded. "That song you sang after you left me that day on the Rock. 'Paris; à
"Ah, j'y étais mousquetaire!"
"You sing too."
So, going home together hand in hand, they sang, and through the wood and over the still, evening water there echoed the voice of their happiness.
They married six weeks later, at the old house at St. Florentin. Bennet and Julia and their mother came up for the service, after which Barney and Ethel went west. Agnes returned to Chicago soon after the Cullens went back; and old Sarah Cullen remained at St. Florentin alone with the Indians until July when, after weeks of drought, the forest fires, which had rested for many years, swept through the tinder-dry slashings and second growth of the peninsula and burned the old house to the ground. So Sarah retreated, perforce, to the home of her older son to pray and wait.
Throughout the western forests also drought prevailed that summer; and in the great tracts of tall, virgin pine of Idaho and Montana blazed timber fires such as had not been seen in Michigan for forty years. They took everything before them, brush and crown, and camps and settlements in their paths.
Here and there the flames suddenly burst on two sides of little villages, all but cutting off escape; and in one of these places—so the telegraphed news related—a huge old man, strange to the settlers but dominating in manner and plainly expert in ways of fighting forest fire, placed himself in command and turned away the flames from the town. He himself worked tirelessly in the fire lines with axe and spade; and when word came that two of his men were missing and probably had fallen and were lying overcome by smoke and gases, close in front of the flames, he went in and brought out one man and returned for the other and never came back.
Days later, when the fire had burnt out, and men were able at last to go through the black, smoldering region, they found his remains beside those of the man for whom he had returned. Identification was not easy; but soon the wires carried to Chicago the information that the old man had been, beyond doubt, Lucas Cullen.
Bennet brought the message to his father at the office.
"He went with his boots on," said Luke, winking wet eyes. "That's how he'd like to go. And—well, boy, it couldn't be better than that."
"No," said Bennet. "No," and he was not ashamed to cry a little; for he knew that his father was not thinking only of his father dead with his boots on, but of the man he had saved from the fire and of the other for whom he had died.
"I'll go right home," said Luke, "to mother."
"She knows; she was home when the telegram came; it was to you, but she'd opened it," Bennet related.
Luke jerked a little. "How did she—how is she, boy?"
"She's all right," said Bennet, and then he broke down. "Oh, damn it, father, she—she took the telegram and read it and looked right up at me. 'Bennet,' she said, 'he—he whom they thought might be your grandfather, was he. Let us give thanks and be glad. Greater love than this no man hath, Bennet, than he lay down his life—he lay down his life for—'"
Ethel and Barney received the news together.
"I knew grandfather wouldn't go without doing something," she said proudly. "You see, he can better face them all now!"
"Yes," said Barney; and he knew she meant her father and mother and his own grandfather of the Book of Mormon, and Laylor and Kincheloe and Quinlan of the flaming torch.
"I guess," Ethel said, "old J. Q. can put out his torch. I can't think that one fine act at the end can change one all at once; but it's something begun which, over there, must have power to go on."