Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 3
CHAPTER III"YOU MIGHT BE ANY ONE!"
GRAY streaks of dawn were spreading over the sky and making visible snow-clad land and, beyond, the frozen surface of the great lake. The train had passed the points of Green Bay and was running almost east along the upper shore of Lake Michigan and out upon the point of the peninsula with Superior barely two-score miles away to the north. The passengers who were getting on and off at the tiny, snow-covered towns were becoming more and more familiar looking to Ethel; they were little-town merchants making short business trips; lake fishermen; a group of men with guns evidently were farmers on a midwinter holiday, hunting for fox; there was a priest bound for St. Ignace and a couple of Indians neatly dressed in their black best, with white collars and with their hair barber-trimmed. Many of them evidently had had breakfast before taking the train; others brought papers of food which they opened. Ethel observed that two neighbors were sharing their packages with the young man who had asked about St. Florentin; and she took from her bag a box of sandwiches which she had brought from Chicago and also breakfasted.
Now the number of passengers in the car was diminishing; the stops were more widely separated; and the patches of cleared ground, where farming had been done, became more and more infrequent. The train puffed past burnt-over ground with the black tops of stumps protruding from the snow or through bare-boughed forests of second growth through which the morning sun glared down, dazzling and glistening. Huge, blue shadows denoted the survival of clumps of pine and the regrowth of cedar.
"Quesnel!" the brakeman called when next he opened the car door, and Ethel stood up, buttoning her coat close to her throat. The dark-haired young man looked about interrogatively; she nodded, and he arose and also prepared to go out. When she stooped for her bag, he came quickly down the aisle and took the bag from her. The train halted beside a platform heaped high with snow and with a shelter shed in the middle from which white streaks of wood smoke wafted in the morning air.
They stepped down upon the platform, and the train immediately puffed on. No one else had left the cars at Quesnel; and no one had got on. There seemed to be no one at the station just now except a middle-aged Indian man in mackinaw coat and cap and with brown leggings who stepped from the shelter, carrying a pair of skis and with another pair, smaller and newer, strapped to his back.
"B'jou," he said to Ethel.
"Good morning, Asa," she hailed, offering her gloved hand. "Every one well at St. Florentin?"
"Everybody," the Indian asserted. Big snow last night again. Nobody breaks road yet." He was explaining his appearance with the skis. "Sam perhaps try to go to Rest Cabin with team later, maybe. Got to walk from here now." His eyes shifted from her to the stranger.
"Oh, I expected to ski over," Ethel said. "Can I send word to grandfather I'm here, or is the wire down?"
"All right to Rest Cabin," the Indian said, not shifting his glance from the stranger. "All down this side last night."
"This is Asa Redbird," Ethel said to the soldier, "who lives near my grandfather and who is good enough to help us out sometimes."
"My name is Barney Loutrelle." The young man completed the introduction, speaking to the Indian as he offered his hand.
"B'jou," Redbird said.
"Where you want to go?" the Indian asked with more interest.
"With us, Asa," Ethel supplied quickly. "Can you get him skis or shoes?"
"Yes," the Indian said. "You have these ones," he offered his skis. "Sled goes over to break road all way this afternoon. I come then, or get shoes over there." He motioned with his head, almost imperceptibly, toward a couple of houses far back from the track where smoke was showing. "No hurry about me."
Loutrelle put his hand on the skis doubtfully. "You want me to take them?" he asked half to the Indian, half to Ethel. The readiness of Asa's offer had surprised her a little; but Barney Loutrelle had spoken to Redbird in just the right manner. And he had mentioned his Christian name; Indians like to know Christian names—and to use them. It was plain that Barney Loutrelle, though he was not familiar with this particular locality, knew the Indians of the north.
"I think Asa doesn't mind waiting for the sled," Ethel said. "Then you'll keep my bag with you, Asa?"
The Indian moved her bag with his foot and set it aside. He unstrapped the skis from his back and, stooping, placed the skis to Ethel's feet.
"You want I should take your satchel?" he asked of Loutrelle when he straightened.
"No, thanks. I'll take it along. But if you don't want those straps—"
The Indian measured his shoulder with his glance, lengthened the straps and secured the suit case at Barney's side.
"All right?" Redbird asked.
"B'jou," Barney said, closing the transaction between them.
"I be there," Redbird said to Ethel, "about four o'clock, I think. Good-by."
"Good-by," Ethel said. "Thank you very much for coming for me."
The Indian picked up Ethel's bag and moved into the shed from which he had appeared. Ethel looked up at her companion and smiled a little.
"I seem to have selected you for my escort," she said.
"I'm very much obliged to you," he returned. "Shall we go now—that way?"
He cut staffs for them and set off a little ahead of her as she purposely stayed back to observe him. He knew how to ski and was not a bit clumsy about it; but he had not skied for some time, she thought. He needed a few moments to get the feel of the long runners upon the snow.
"Not too fast, am I?" he asked.
"Oh, no!" She caught pace with him, breathing deeply and evenly. It was near noon and, though still cold, much warmer than in the early morning; the air was clear, and the wind, which had blown a gale during the night, had quieted almost to a calm.
"We go due south, they told me on the train," he said, glancing ahead.
"Yes; to St. Florentin; and to the Rock too, until a fork about a mile this side of grandfather's, where you take a road more to the east."
She remembered that he had not definitely said that he was bound for the island; but the visible impulse which unconsciously quickened his stride when she again mentioned the Rock revealed the fact to her.
"The farmer who keeps the key to the house on Resurrection Rock lives at the end of that road, I understand," he said.
"The road goes to his house; his name's Wheedon; he lives on the shore."
"Of course the lake is frozen over clear out to the Rock."
"Surely," Ethel said. She had been aware that he had been asking questions about the locality—and particularly about the Rock—from the people on the train. She had told him that she knew no more about the house on the Rock; nevertheless she had expected that now he would ask her more about it. Indeed, she was certain that he wanted to; but the constraint which had held him away on the train still influenced him; and it was her question which first forced itself out.
"How did you hear the name of my father, Mr. Loutrelle?" she asked.
"Oh!" he said, and she recognized, as she looked up at him, that he had been expecting the question and had been trying, unsuccessfully, to be ready for it. "That came up, in England—in London, Miss Carew, when I was in France."
It was plain that he realized he had replied incoherently; so Ethel waited.
"In November, about two months ago," he added.
"When my father's name came up in London? How?"
"In a letter to me, Miss Carew."
"I see. You knew one of his men!"
"No; it wasn't like that—not at all like that. It happened just before the armistice, Miss Carew. Huston Adley was in London—" He was in difficulties with the telling; but now he did not want to stop, as he hesitated and looked down at her. "We're not going too fast?"he asked.
"Not now," Ethel assured. They had, indeed, almost halted as they entered the woods, keeping to the course of the snow-obliterated road winding between the trees. And, as Ethel watched her companion, suddenly she better comprehended the nature of the constraint which had held him. What he had to say was far too serious and personal to be discussed in the publicity and amid the interruptions of the train. She realized that he had been counting upon—or at least hoping for—some such chance as this of talking to her alone.
"Your father's name came to me first in a letter from London, Miss Carew," he said. "I think, after all"—he referred aloud thus to some debate which he had had with himself—"you'd better see it first. But don't—suppose anything from it, please."
He thrust his hand into a side pocket and drew out a square, white envelope with English stamp and postmark and with the English strip—"Opened by the Censor." It was addressed to Barney Loutrelle, Lieutenant of Infantry in a certain American regiment in France. He handed it to her, and she pulled off her heavy gloves and drew out the single folded sheet and read, in vigorous, youthful handwriting:
Nov. 7, '18.
One named Philip Carew is here and keeps asking for you. Do you know him? He says you don't; but he knows you; or at least seems to have some mighty important business for you.
If this sweet little altercation ceases soon, I'd advise you to come and try to learn what he wants. If you can't, perhaps you can get him there—Philip Carew, the name. Try it and see.
Ethel's breath stopped; she stood holding the letter with trembling hand while she examined the postmark which, like the date written upon the page, was November 7, 1918.
"My father!" she said. "He was killed in June!"
"Yes; you told me so," Loutrelle replied gently.
"You don't mean that there was a mistake? My father's alive and—"
"No," Loutrelle denied quickly. "No; no; you mustn't think of that. I told you not to suppose anything from this."
"Then, of course, this doesn't refer to the Philip Carew who was my father," Ethel said, better controlling herself but yet frightened. At what, she did not know. "Does it? Do you think that it does, Mr. Loutrelle?" she demanded, when he did not answer. Then, "Who is this Hus? Did he know my father?"
"I don't think so. He's a friend of mine—a Canadian from Edmonton. He was a lieutenant in my battalion. He'd been wounded and sent to Blighty where he lived with his cousins, London people—"
"Do you think this refers to my father, Mr. Loutrelle?"
"That's what we have to work out together, Miss Carew; and we must go on," he commanded her with that concerned gentleness with which he had spoken before. He reclaimed his letter; and she closed her little hands, holding one white fist and then the other to her lips and blowing upon them before thrusting them into her gloves. He moved a little and waited for her; she came forward beside him, and they proceeded over the smooth, glistening snow.
"Do you know Boyne across there?" he asked, his gray eyes studying her as he motioned with his head in the direction of the distant lake.
"You mean the little town—"
"They call it a city."
"Yes; I know—on the other side. I've been there. What's that to do with my father?"
"If I knew, I'd tell you right out," he assured. "But as it is, the only way I see is to explain how that letter—and what followed—came to me; and that involves a good deal of talking about—"
"Myself," he said simply.
She glanced up at him quickly. The speculation concerning him, which she had been forming during the morning, and her thought that his errand to St. Florentin was likely to influence her affairs, seemed better founded than she had guessed. He, too, was feeling an association of their interests, an association not yet to be defined but not powerless for that.
"Do you want to tell me something of your father, Miss Carew?" he asked.
"You mean where he lived? That was in Wyoming; we had a ranch once on the Powder River; later we—my father and myself, Mr. Loutrelle; my mother died when I was three—we moved to Sheridan, and he became interested in a large number of development projects. I know a good deal about them and what he did until he went to France a year and a half ago; he had irrigation and water-power works planned in Wyoming and Montana and other parts of the west. Is that what you wanted to know?"
"Partly. Then he wasn't connected particularly with this section?"
"Only through me—or my mother's family."
"Or with Charlevoix County across the lake?"
"Not at all; why?"
"That's the only place I ever was, before I went into the war—the section about twelve miles inland and six or seven miles this side of Boyne. You know that particular part, Miss Carew?"
"They've farms there, haven't they? Then your people lived—"
"I don't know where my own people lived, or what they were," Loutrelle interrupted quickly. "And the part I'm thinking of isn't farms. It's much like this," he glanced about at the trees, "second growth woods, only a bit older; and Indians like Asa Redbird."
"I lived with them; yes, Miss Carew. Until I was seven years old. I thought I was an Indian myself. Some Chippewas—a good man, Azen Mabo and his wife—had me. I don't remember ever thinking that they were my parents; I guess I had some sort of memory of other Indians who had me before. But I can remember the day Azen told me that I was white."
He said this quite without bitterness, simply as a statement of a fact; but Ethel saw his lips press tightly together, involuntarily; his eyes gazed vacantly far away, and something within Ethel's breast seemed to tug and draw taut. Consciously as she observed him, she was looking for mark of Indian in his features—for a sallowness of skin or flattening of cheek bone. The glare of the noon sun and the dazzle from the snow gave a light to exaggerate any coarseness blunting of feature; but it showed him only fairer of skin and with purer proportions in his face than he had seemed to possess before. And, unconsciously, her gaze gave him to her now as a little boy in poor, ragged clothing—a fair-skinned, good-looking little boy with that same pleasant, likable look in his gray eyes—standing in an Indian hut in woods like these and looking up at an Indian, like Asa, who was telling him that he was white.
"Azen told me he got me from another Indian—a man named Noah Jo, who had had a boat and moved around a good deal," Loutrelle went on. "He didn't find out much about me; for Noah Jo was sick when he sent for Azen and died about the time Azen got there. Azen took, with me, Noah Jo's rifle and boat and gear and some other things; one of them was a ring which Noah Jo said went with me. Azen showed it to me then, Miss Carew; and years later, he gave it to me. Would you like to see it?"
"Please," Ethel said, that strange tug pulling at her harder. What he was saying to her was no oft-repeated or cheaply told tale, she was sure; he was bringing himself to relate these circumstances of his life only after a struggle with his pride. And she could guess how hard and bitter must have been the building of that pride by the little boy, a white boy in the Indian shack in the woods.
He took off a glove and, putting his hand inside of his coat, he felt in some secure inner pocket and took out a little chamois bag from which he drew a ring, a woman's ring, Ethel saw, when she received it. It was a small but remarkable ring of gold, without jewels but decorated in a beautiful and stately manner. It was an old ring, not marked with a date, but of a fashion which suggested a century, or two centuries, gone. Ethel could not visualize it alone upon a woman's hand; its original possessor, she thought, certainly had counted this only one among many ornaments for her slender fingers. And the image it called up caused Ethel to glance up at its present owner with new estimation which he met by color deepening upon his cheek, though his eyes met hers steadily.
"What did that mean to you?" she asked, holding it a moment longer before giving it back.
"Nothing much at first, that I remember," he said. "I was white; but for a while I went with the Indians more than with the whites. Indian boys and girls, as well as white, attended the same little schoolhouse on the Charlevoix road. I was either Barney Mabo or some people called me Barney with the Mabos, giving me no last name of my own. When I got older, I used to do chores for the white farmers around, and they treated me like white. One of them got me a job in Boyne City so I could go to high school. That was when Azen gave me the ring; he knew I wasn't coming back to him—to stay. He never showed the ring to any one else—except maybe to some of his Indian friends. I never did, either, Miss Carew."
He considered it for a moment, holding it in the palm of his bare hand; they were proceeding slowly side by side. "Being a woman's ring," he said, "I supposed it was my mother's—whoever she was and however she happened to give it, and me, to Noah Jo. But it didn't seem to me that I could do anything about finding her, except by accident. So I just kept the ring and tried not to think too much about her. Being busy helped. You see," he smiled a little in his retrospection as he put the ring away, "it wasn't any absolute cinch going through Boyne high school and supporting yourself. Then the war came along; and I went."
"I got in our own army then; but I had the luck to go just after the Marne, with the Canadians."
"Oh! Did you? That was fine!"
"I had the luck to be pinged a little the next fall—a 'cushy blighter', you know?"
"Yes; a wound taking you back to London."
"That's it. I spent the winter of 1915–1916 there, Miss Carew. I was just a kid, not hurt a lot but temporarily on crutches, though I could get about pretty well. England was laying herself out for the Canadians. We'd been having our big losses together; almost everybody had some one who'd gone 'west'; and most of 'em couldn't realize it. London and all England, Miss Carew—was full of people trying to get in touch with fellows who'd been reported killed—just their names brought home on a government telegram and maybe a package of letters returned later."
"Yes; I know," Ethel said quietly, her breath catching a little.
"So it wasn't strange that a good many people were trying to find out more."
"You mean trying to trace men reported killed, who might merely have been missing?"
"Yes; they did that; but more generally they accepted the truth of the government report but tried to reach their dead."
"You see 'Raymond' had recently been killed—"
"Sir Oliver Lodge's son; yes, Miss Carew. His father and mother and friends were receiving messages which they published and which they were sure must be from him; and thousands of other people—not a crazy lot but scientists and lawyers and editors and judges and kings' counselors and hard-headed merchants and all sorts of Englishmen—were getting communications which they believed must be from their men who'd been killed."
"Oh!" Ethel murmured again. She did not hear what he said during the next moments. Her thoughts had gone from him to the letter he had shown her; she was rehearsing the words which referred to her father. "Oh!"
They were still following, mechanically and without effort, the wide course of the old St. Florentin road which lay two feet or three feet or five—according to the depth of the new drifts—below the glistening crust of the snow. The air had become so calm that the midday sun was dispensing more appreciable warmth. Ethel could feel it mitigating the cold of the air upon her cheek; she could see it beginning to melt the surface of the tiny snow ridges rounded up on the lower boughs of the trees. The sun failed to quite dissolve the snow, succeeding only in making it fluid enough to refreeze as ice on the bottom of the twigs and mantle the boughs more closely.
It was quite comfortable pushing along on skis; indeed, Ethel felt warm and loosened her coat collar. They had passed no one; and except for scars on the drifts here and there which probably marked Asa Redbird's trail to Quesnel, they saw no mark of human presence. Bird tracks patterned a powdery drift; a dog—probably the property of one of Asa's neighbors back in the woods—had crossed the road. Once a shadow flapped and passed obliquely before them; and Ethel, gazing up, saw a hawk high in the sky.
". . . talked a lot about it," Loutrelle was saying when next she was conscious of hearing. "But I had no particular reason for being interested. I'd lost some pals, of course; but we never talked in the trenches of caring to communicate with them. All that sort of thing was back home in England; and it seemed silly or queer, what I'd learned of it from Huston. His aunt and his cousins—the girls—went in for it hard; they'd lost their men, you see. They were all sure they were getting messages back and forth and could find out all sorts of things. They had a 'sitting' one evening at their house when I was with them for dinner, and it occurred to me, if there's anything in this rot, why not try to find out about myself. So I sat with them and asked them to inquire about my mother and father. I'd not told any one of them—even Hus, then—anything except that I had no parents; and I received in reply the foolest sort of tosh. 'There is some one here who is loved by another—a mother—very distant,'" he continued, imitating another's voice. "'There is a dark-eyed, fatherly man who also loves him. They do not know where he is.'
"Well, Miss Carew," he ceased to imitate. "It was worse than gipsy fortune-telling or palm-reading. But having got me to try, the Adleys wouldn't leave me alone till I'd tried other mediums, and if variety in my life was what I wanted, they gave it to me.
"I'd supposed that my mother probably was dead; and if there was anything at all in these séances which so many important people believed in, I thought I could at least find out whether she really was living or dead. But when I asked one medium, I'd be told she was living; the next would say she was dead. About my father likewise. Rot or nothing. Then I returned to duty and forgot all about it at the front till I was laid up in London again for a few weeks ending last October. Hus Adley, who'd finally lost an arm and was permanently on duty in London, had gone quite over to the civilian enthusiasms, and he dragged me around to sittings in a private house on Cavendish Square. You know London, Miss Carew?"
"I know Cavendish Square," Ethel said.
"It's of no great importance except, you see, the neighborhood wasn't one where you'd look for cheap frauds."
"No. What happened?"
"Several affairs which startled other people."
"Well, I got a few surprises, too."
"Of what sort?"
"Facts about myself instead of foolishness. Somebody connected with that affair—I'm not saying that the information came from spirits—but somebody in that room seemed to know just about everything concerning me. And I found out that my father was living but my mother was dead."
"How did you find that out?"
"At the sitting."
"But you said that at other sittings you'd been told such things before," Ethel objected. "And you thought it was rot."
"Because the other things told me at the same time about matters which I knew were foolish. But this time—well, I admit several shocks. The medium told me little details about myself for years back, especially about my life over here. She knew about my ring and Azen Mabo and Noah Jo; about my friends in Boyne high school—people I'd never mentioned to any one."
"How did she know?"
"That's what gave me a jump. Of course, she might have learned those things, if she'd taken the trouble, or if Hus had sent a staff of detectives over here. Everything could have been learned naturally."
"Then why didn't you think it was?"
"I haven't said it was learned unnaturally; but it was such a mixed lot of facts, Miss Carew. It seemed to me a most enormous waste of time for any one to have sent over here collecting all those facts about me. I'm normal, Miss Carew; I don't prefer weird explanations. But I admit I walked the streets of London that night. For, you see, one of two things must be true; some one dead, but able to communicate with me, knew a lot about me, and might tell more; or the some one was living; and then—"
"I couldn't figure his—or her—reasons."
"Communicating with me that way."
"So you believed—"
"Nothing yet. But of course I went back to the same woman—alone this time—the next afternoon."
"And you got?"
"Nothing at all."
"That rather let me down. The next day I had to go back to France. I was at the front; but Hus stayed in London and kept trying to find out more for me, and on November seventh wrote me the letter I showed you."
"About my father!"
"Of course I'd no idea who he was then or why he wanted me."
"But what did you do?"
"Nothing, right away. We were fighting hard until the eleventh."
"Of course; but then?"
"I was kept with the battalion. I had more time to myself; but no chance to go to London."
"Or to try to 'get' my father where you were, Mr. Loutrelle? I suppose that meant through a sitting in France."
"To tell the truth, it seemed all silly stuff to me again, Miss Carew; the jump I'd got from that one good evening had worn off. Then I had the luck, on the twelfth of December, to get a special discharge. I wired Hus in London that I was coming and we'd have a good time. But he wired back not to come to England but to get passage to America; said he was writing in explanation. This letter came two days later."
He halted again and put his hand into his coat pocket, drawing out an envelope similar to the other and with English stamp and postmark. Ethel recognized the same vigorous handwriting. Taking out the letter, she turned her back to the sun and read:
If you've never taken anything on trust before, take this from me, old top. Beat it for home—particularly to the town of St. Florentin in Northern Michigan. Do you know it?
If you don't, find it! It's not on any map I've looked at, I admit; but it's somewhere near a Strait which must be Mackinac.
Now I'll not tell you why I'm ordering this. You'd say tosh and 'rot; but go! Particularly find a place named Resurrection or perhaps it's a house or a town near the water. Wait around. There'll be some one named Bagley there and Carew—not Philip Carew, I've mentioned before, unless there's another; maybe a relation.
You're to tell Bagley you're Dick and you'll take things over. Now I don't know what this refers to; and neither will you, probably. But it's all I can find out. I don't think you'll learn more except by going. Only believe me, if I were you, I'd go at once.
P.S. You may have to look out when you get there. But you can see to yourself.
Ethel looked up. "Did anything follow this?"
"In explanation from Hus? No."
"Then what did you do?"
"Started.—It must look silly to you, I suppose. But the war was over; I was let out. I had nowhere to go except to Hus—and he didn't want me—or else come back here. So I came here."
He was now dissembling, she knew, the effect upon himself of his experience in London and this letter.
"I'd have come, in your place, I think," Ethel said quietly. "Though I suppose that your friend means that he obtained this information by—unusual methods."
"From my father?"
"He doesn't say that."
"But you think it."
"A good many times since leaving France, I've thought that the whole business was a hoax, Miss Carew, especially when I got all the way to Chicago and even to Escanaba without finding any one who had ever heard of St. Florentin."
He looked down, his gray eyes challenging hers honestly and seriously.
"What do you think, Miss Carew?"
"Well, certainly there is a St. Florentin—and you didn't know it in December."
"No; nor till this morning. But that's not denying there might be some one in London who knew it."
"Then there's Resurrection Rock."
"To which the same applies," he said.
"But that couldn't apply to me, Mr. Loutrelle. No one in London in December could have known I was to go to St. Florentin. I didn't know it myself, then."
"But you often came; some one might know that."
"Yes; but our meeting this morning—"
"Was a coincidence, of course, Miss Carew. But I've been thinking a good deal about it, too. Against it, there's one wild shot, anyway. There's no Bagley about."
"Well, what do you think?"
She made no immediate answer but gazed down at the letter which she reread before returning it to him. "What do you suppose it means; 'Tell Bagley you're Dick and you'll take things over'?" she asked at last.
"I thought 'Dick' might be my real name. I just had the name Barney from Noah Jo. I took Loutrelle for myself from a man I liked when I started high school."
He put his letter away and proceeded for several moments in silence. They were climbing a slightly higher and steeper hillside than any they had yet encountered in that rolling forest land; and the surface of the snow showed the fresh imprint of snowshoes distinct from the scratches of Asa Redbird's trail. Where these new footprints had come in, neither Ethel nor Loutrelle had noticed. Glancing back, they observed the marks as far back as they could see. After a few minutes, the trail left the road abruptly and vanished between the trees to the south.
"Some Indian must be making the round of his traps," Ethel commented. "We're coming to where used to be an old lumber camp for the woodmen," she said a little later, as the gray walls of old shacks appeared through the trees to the right. "No one's there now, but we keep one cabin sound and stocked with firewood."
"Oh, yes," Loutrelle recollected. "Redbird's Rest Cabin where you're to wait for the team."
He identified it easily out of the little group of deserted shacks which they approached. In addition to its being in better repair, a wire reached from the south and then stretched across the road and into the woods to the north, undoubtedly the telephone wire which the Indian had mentioned as all right from St. Florentin to the cabin and down beyond. Loutrelle pushed ahead and thrust open the weather-beaten door. He removed his skis and Ethel's also and stood them against the wall. They stamped down upon a dry, board floor. Loutrelle closed the door, and a single, rudely glazed window lighted the interior which was perhaps twelve feet square with an old bunk on one side; upon the other was a boulder fireplace with a couple of benches before it. A telephone instrument was upon the wall. There was dry wood and brush under the chimney, and Loutrelle struck a match and started a blaze which swiftly roared into red flame.
Ethel bent and swung out, an iron crane set in the fireplace. She took a battered kettle from a shelf which held, besides, a few cheap dishes and a couple of tin boxes and cans. When Loutrelle looked about, she handed him the kettle, and he filled it with snow and set it over the fire. He had flung his suit case from his shoulder and tossed away his cap and opened his coat. Ethel unbuttoned her coat, too, and sat down upon one of the benches before the fire. Loutrelle did not sit down.
"Tired?" he asked her.
"I hadn't thought so; but it's nice to wait here."
"Yes. How far've we come?"
"About four miles. The road follows the ridges beyond here, and the snow's never so deep. A team can usually get this far."
Loutrelle turned to the fire and stood on the other side of the hearth, his hands outstretched, absently gazing into the flames. Ethel from her seat watched his face boldly, so deeply was he sunk in thought. She could understand so much better than a few hours earlier the marks which struggle and self-discipline had left upon him during the process in which he had grown from the little white boy living with the Indians to the young man he now was. She could see, too, and more plainly, the signs of good heritage in the pleasing contour and poise of his dark-haired head, the good proportion of his features, the curve of his lips, the clean turn of his chin; and—what she had not noticed before—his hands. His were strong, very masculine hands, and it was evident that they had worked a great deal, but they were small-boned and excellently shaped. They brought to Ethel's mind again the image of his ring—the ring which Noah Jo had said was his—upon a woman's hand, white, graceful and beautiful.
Ethel bent toward him impulsively. "Why do you say that it would have been an enormous waste of time for some one to have sent to collect facts about you?" she asked almost belligerently. "You—you might be—any one!"
He swung about suddenly, one hand going to the pocket where he had put away the ring.
"I?" he said, hot blood suffusing his face. "Sometimes I've dreamed about being—some one, Miss Carew; then I've thought what that meant and—" He did not finish but jerked up, as though shaking himself out of his realm of speculation and into the actual. "At Quesnel you wanted to telephone to your grandfather," he reminded, glancing at the instrument beside the chimney. "Redbird said the line was working this far."
"Yes," Ethel said but arose only to take down cups and a stoneware pot from the shelf. She found tea leaves in one of the cans and a few crackers in another; he moved a bench to act as table beside the fire, and she spread their board.
The single window in the cabin was to the south, and the sun was shining through in a golden square upon the floor; the fire was crackling in leaping red flames; and, as Loutrelle removed the kettle from the crane and poured the boiling water into the teapot, steam rose cozily from the spout.
"You like tea?" Ethel said, looking up. "I didn't ask you."
"I was three years with the Canadians," he replied.
She laughed, reasonlessly but happily. He smiled in the pleasant way he had and, without waiting for the formality of other invitation, he sat down upon the bench beside her,—not close to her nor so far away that his care to avoid closeness was awkward.
Outside the cabin, there was no sound or movement; not a slight stir of breeze remained. The tracery of a twig which intruded in shadow upon the sunlit square was sharp and motionless as a purple, painted line; the winter midday was tranquil with a white, cold languor; and the cabin, with its warmth within the walls, did not dispel but instead increased the sense of the desertion and remoteness of this still spot.
Whereas only a few hours earlier Ethel had been restless to reach St. Florentin as quickly as possible, there to enter upon the effort with her grandfather which she had come—almost hopelessly—to spend, now the impulse of her impatience had passed. Until this encounter with Barney Loutrelle, she had been absolutely alone—unassociated with any one and unsupported—in her expedition to St. Florentin. She had been conscious of coming to her grandfather to wage with him a combat involving people whom he knew but of whose very names she was ignorant and involving affairs of which she had no understanding; and she had felt her desperate disadvantage. But,—well, she could not yet define in what respect she felt the disadvantage to be less from having met Barney Loutrelle, but she felt it; and now, when he asked her in more detail about the people at St. Florentin and about the Rock, she answered him fully and almost without reserve. She wished to delay here to think and—as he had put it—to better "work out" affairs together with him before even speaking with her grandfather over the telephone.
But after a few minutes, the bell rang.
It was a sharp, imperative ring; and, as the wire was down everywhere except to St. Florentin, Ethel knew that call came from her grandfather's. The curtness of the ring indeed gave her instantly a vision of her grardfather standing at the telephone instrument fastened upon the wall of his room and jerking the bell handle. He had been ringing at intervals earlier, Ethel guessed; and he was sure that by this time some one ought to answer.
She took down the receiver and replied.
"Ah! Ethel!" her grandfather's voice recognized her with irritable welcome. "So you did come, did you?"
Ethel made the obvious response and inquired about him and about her grandmother, inquiries which he ignored.
"You're at the cabin at last, I suppose."
"Asa with you all right?"
"No, grandfather; Asa stayed at Quesnel."
"He did, did he? Then you're alone there?"
Ethel scarcely hesitated before replying "No"; but her grandfather noticed the hesitation.
"No!" he mocked her quickly. "Why didn't you want to tell me that; who's with you? How many?"
"Just one, grandfather."
"A Mr. Loutrelle, grandfather."
Ethel said it again and heard her grandfather repeat it to himself, before deciding, evidently, that he did not know it. Then he demanded of her:
"Who's a Mr. Loutrelle? A lawyer you're bringing, or one of your creditors?"
"No, grandfather; he's—" she hesitated, coloring a little, and she turned as she heard Loutrelle moving. He had pulled the door open and now he stepped out quickly, closing the door behind him to let her continue her talk without being overheard. But all she said now was, "He's an officer just returned from France."
"Oh; friend of yours!" her grandfather's voice charged. "Why didn't you say in your wire yesterday you were bringing him?"
"I wasn't. I just met him on the train this morning, grandfather. I'm not bringing him there now. We just came this far together, that's all. He's on his way to Resurrection Rock."
"To the Rock, grandfather."
There was delay now at the other end of the wire; and Ethel, as she waited, could hear the mumble—but not the words—of the old man talking to himself. The undertone brought to her another image of him; she knew how he looked and when it was that he thus muttered to himself. It was when something suddenly disturbed him or when he had been under a strain for some time but was required to make a decision; he would try over phrases to himself before speaking aloud. That was what he was doing at this moment,—trying over a sentence which he discarded and now trying another.
"No one goes to the Rock, Ethel," he said at last aloud. "If he doesn't know that, surely you must have told him. Bring him here with you, my dear. I would like to see him. Bring him here with you; do you understand?"
"I understand, grandfather," Ethel said.
"Bring him here with you," the old man ordered again; and Ethel heard him hang up the receiver. Then the bell rang once, curtly. It was the rural line custom of "ringing off" after ending a conversation. Her grandfather had forgotten that the line was down everywhere except to the cabin.
Ethel crossed to the door and, opening it, looked for Loutrelle. He had tramped off through the snow, without putting on his skis, and evidently was exploring one of the old, dilapidated shacks on the other side of the road. She thought for a moment that she would call to him; then the telephone bell jangled again and, answering, she heard her grandfather's voice informing her that Sam Green Sky had left with a team more than two hours ago and ought to get through to the cabin soon. This time he did not ring off after hanging up.
She realized that he had called the first time to tell her about Sam but what she had told him had upset him so that he forgot; she knew that, in general, the Rock—with the presence of the large, empty house—was an object of disquiet for him. But this day something more particular must have occurred. Her grandfather had been perturbed when he first telephoned, and the news that a Mr. Loutrelle was going to the Rock simply had increased his agitation. But what could have happened up here?
The lines of Barney Loutrelle's letter recurred to her. "Beat it for home—particularly to the town of St. Florentin in Northern Michigan!" His friend had urged in his emphatic way, "Go! Believe me, if I were you, I'd go at once."
That surely indicated something about to happen; and then the postscript:
"You may have to look out when you get there. But you can see to yourself."
Ethel returned to the door and found Loutrelle on his way back to the cabin.
"Sam Green Sky, an Indian, is coming to meet us with a team," she announced. "I told my grandfather that you were with me, and he invited you to St. Florentin."
She was aware that he must have overheard the first of her talk over the telephone, and from it he must have inferred the nature of her grandfather's challenges; and she was conscious too, that she repeated the invitation little more than mechanically.
"Do you want me to go with you?" he asked her directly.
"No," she replied frankly. "That is, if I were you, I'd go right out to Resurrection Rock."
She had not considered at all what she said before she spoke; her words—as one's words sometimes do—had surprised her by betraying a feeling which had not yet formed itself in her thought. She did not want Barney Loutrelle to go to St. Florentin; but yet she had no reason for not wanting it than that her grandfather did want it, and did not want him to go to the Rock.
"You may have to look out when you get there." She found the warning from Loutrelle's friend iterating itself again to her.
"Let's go on then," Loutrelle was saying, and he scooped up snow, carrying it into the cabin and putting out the fire. He laid a new one while Ethel rinsed their cups in the hot water from the kettle and put the dishes away.
"Who uses this place?" Loutrelle asked now. "Just your family?"
"Oh; no. Any one at all. It's never locked, and we've always something here."
"Yes; they use it whenever they want to; every one who knows about it does. Why?"
"Some one slept in that shack across there—under hardly half a roof and with no door," Loutrelle explained. "I could tell because the fellow burrowed out the snow for his blanket; and he couldn't have had any fire."
"Let me see," Ethel said.
He strapped on her skis and, stepping into his own, he led her to the ruin across the road, where it was plain, as he said, that some one recently had hollowed out the snow and laid a blanket for sleeping; also the some one had eaten there, leaving crumbs of white bread. He had come during the night or, at least, before the snow and the wind ceased; for his trail to the shack was covered; but he had departed that morning on snowshoes, upon which he had progressed badly and directly away from the road into the woods. It was partly from observation of his clumsiness with snowshoes that Ethel said:
"He couldn't have belonged about here. Probably he came over from the railroad to hunt and got lost and just found this place in the dark. He was after fox, maybe."
"I bet he woke up cold," Loutrelle said. "I should think this morning he'd at least have gone over to have a look at the cabin."
Ethel moved away without offering to answer. She did not believe that the man who had slept there in the snow burrow was a hunter; she did not form any idea of who or what he might be except that certainly he was a stranger in the neighborhood. And now a queer, shivery thought possessed her. She did not speak it; but Loutrelle did.
"Wonder if he might be Bagley?"
The sun, only a little lower to the west, was glaring down upon the snow, unclouded and still dazzlingly bright as they proceeded upon the way of the old St. Florentin wood road. It had warmth yet, and all the land was glistening and still, in nowise altered in prospect from the hour before until, as the road reached the top of a ridge which was higher than those which lay to the south, the smooth ice-sheet over Lake Huron came into view, reaching away green and dark in streaks where the wind had blown away the snow and then white and dark and white again to the dim, distant, cold gray-blue of the winter horizon. Ragged points—capes and tiny peninsulas—thrust into the ice-sheet as though trying to reach but as though broken and cast back by a great black rock which rose abruptly out of and above the ice half a mile from shore.
The western rise of the rock, upon which the sun was shining, seemed sheer and towering; only about the base, where the lake had tossed up heaps and hummocks of ice, and upon the top had snow gathered. The northern side of the rock seemed less precipitous, but that was mostly in shadow, so that one could not well make out even the limits of the island. Sometimes it seemed half shadow, half rock; sometimes all rock, without shadow, defying the sun. Desolate itself, it dominated desolation—lifeless rock and ice and snow unspecked by moving thing. Even the gulls which might have visited its crannies in summer now, if the water were open, must have gone; for as far as the eyes could see, about the island and beyond it, lay the frozen shroud over the lake.
"Resurrection Rock!" Ethel said, gazing at it with no need to point as they stood upon the top of the ridge.
Loutrelle nodded, his eyes narrowing a little as he tried to see it better through the glare. "There is a house upon it?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes; near the south end; part of that snow upon which the sun is shining must be on the roof of the house."
"But why's the house there?" he demanded. He had asked this before but not with the present amazement.
"Of course it's quite different in summer."
"But you said it's never been occupied, summer or winter."
"Except possibly," he said, glancing at her and away to the house again, "by the dead."
He spoke in a queer, neutral tone, neither quite seriously nor at all lightly. She had never heard any one say "the dead" in just that manner. It did not suggest that he had taken the revelations in the letters more earnestly than he had admitted; nor did it hint at greater scepticism. It betrayed only an open mind and caused her to consider the long experience which this young man, who had enlisted after the Marne and fought four years, must have had with the dead.
"So you heard stories on the train?" Ethel asked.
"Yes; but I wasn't thinking particularly of them. Being with Indians when I was a boy, I was brought up to believe in spirits—manedos and Nibanaba—everywhere. When I left the Indians, the hardest thing I had to do was to rid myself of superstitions—to try to stop believing ghosts were always about in everything and likely to be at the bottom of all good and evil. I was thinking, Miss Carew, how strange it is to find the great leaders of my own people taking me back to Azen's manedos. Do we keep on straight ahead?"
The source of the hidden road had been doubtful at the edge of a clearing where new trees had failed to grow; and Ethel went ahead slightly to guide the way. The Rock now was constantly in sight; and, glancing again and again at it, Ethel felt it dominating her mood.
Not the Rock alone, of course; what Loutrelle had told her affected her as did the discovery of the marks of the stranger in the roofless shack; and the way her grandfather had spoken to her and talked to himself,—many affairs that morning which had begun so early. She was a little tired and was looking down at the snow only a few yards ahead of her as she went on.
A row of dark dots spotted the snow from right to left,—dots which seemed to redden as she approached them and to grow larger. They appeared about two feet or a yard apart, rather irregularly, but in almost a straight line; and as she reached them, she saw they were drops, drops of blood.
She started and looked about. Except Loutrelle beside her, no man and no animal was anywhere in sight; there were no tracks or scratches on the snow, no marks of any sort but the drops of blood reaching from right to left across the way that Loutrelle and she had been going.
"What is it?" she cried to him, suddenly shaken.
He stooped and scooped up snow containing a drop of the red stain.
"A wounded bird flew over here," he said. "Some one shot a bird; that's all."
"I didn't hear a shot."
"It might have been miles away."
"I didn't see any bird."
"We haven't been looking up. People may be hunting through these woods, we know."
"Yes," she said, trying to get herself together better. She saw him sweep with his ski and brush another spot, avoiding stepping over it as he went on. It probably was accident, she thought; but she followed in his trail rather than cross the line elsewhere.
They entered woods again and soon heard a whip cracking and the voice of a man calling to straining horses.
"Gee-up; hoah, now; gee-up, you Sally!"
"That's Sam Green Sky," Ethel informed; and they came upon a white and roan team,—strong, large mares pulling a wide-runnered wood sled through snow that reached to their hocks.
"B'jou, Miss Ethel!" Sam hailed and waved his arm, while he set about turning his team back into the tracks they had just cleared.
He was a younger man than Redbird, not more than thirty and fat and swarthy, of the type suggesting a mixture of negro blood; he had thick lips which laughed easily, jolly looking eyes, and he was talkative by nature and dressed in the loudest and gaudiest of mackinaw patterns. But if he had other than Indian blood, the mixture was with a strain which left without kink his gleaming, bluish-black hair.
He was chewing tobacco which he spat out, courteously, before speaking to Ethel and acknowledging his introduction to Loutrelle. He did not offer to shake hands, as had Redbird; but he accepted a cigarette and smoked it immediately when his passengers got on the sled and he drove back through the woods.
"Old man pretty well; pretty mad this morning; old lady well too." Green Sky vouchsafed genial information without urging. "Somebody come to Wheedon's yesterday; and go out to Rock. Old man go down to Wheedon; want to know about it; damn mad." Sam's information began to run around a circle.
Ethel glanced at Loutrelle whom she found gazing at her and waiting for her to ask the question.
"The name of the man—Sam—the man who came to Wheedon's yesterday."
"Oh; stranger. Nobody know him. Never seen here before."
"But he must have given a name, Sam."
"Sure. Mr. Bagley. That's all."
"Bagley, Sam? You said Bagley?"
"Sure thing; why not?"
"Where's he now, Sam?"
"Out there, I guess." He puffed cigarette smoke in the direction of the rock at which he stared for a moment or so longer.
"Hasn't come back. What you know 'bout that?" Sam inquired cheerfully.
Ethel refrained from comment; and Sam, instead of pressing his question, philosophized. "Damn funny business long time 'bout that."
He had turned carefully away from Ethel and toward Loutrelle for his oath.
"Damn funny," Loutrelle agreed quietly.
She caught his glance again, but he ventured no other remark in Sam's hearing until the sled approached a break through the trees leading to the east which pointed a forking road.
"If that's the way to Wheedon's, I'll be off here, please," he said to Ethel.
She ordered Sam to stop, explaining, "Mr. Loutrelle wants to go to Wheedon's."
But she was quite sure, as she watched him fasten on his skis, that he was going directly to the Rock. She would go to Resurrection Rock, were she in his place; indeed, she wanted now to go to the Rock with him. Bagley—the man named in the letter from London whom nobody had known about until yesterday and who had never been seen here before—was at the Rock; Bagley, to whom Barney Loutrelle was to say he "Dick" and from whom he was to "take things over." What things?
She gazed at the Rock again and felt the blood running a bit colder within her. She looked back to Loutrelle who had pulled off his glove to offer his hand.
"B'jou, Miss Carew," he said, his eyes meeting hers. "You've been mighty good to me."
"Good-by," she replied unwillingly, taking off her glove also to grasp his hand. "You'll—" she stopped herself. She wanted to caution him, to say that she would like to help him and would aid him, if anything went wrong. But, before Sam, she could not. "You'll come and see me soon, I hope."
"I hope so," he assured. Color had gone from his face, too. Bagley was at the Rock; that made the chain of the circumstances in his letter from Hus complete. He was impatient to be away, she saw; but he would not show it before the Indian. "Thank your grandfather for his invitation to me, please," he added. "And tell him I will call."
He was relaxing his grasp on her fingers to withdraw his hand; but her pressure tightened. He did not understand that he was going into danger, she thought. His friend's letter had only barely suggested it. He expected to encounter strange things, perhaps; but not definite danger. And there was danger to him, she was sure. When she asked herself why she felt it, the reason was her grandfather.
"Call as soon as you can; come to our house to-night," she bade before letting go his hand.
"Thank you; but of course I can't tell. B'jou," he added, looking at Green Sky. "Obliged for the lift."
"B'jou," Sam returned. "Obliged for cigarette."
Loutrelle smiled at Sam's smile and gave him half a dozen more cigarettes. Sam chirruped the horses on. Ethel sat so as to watch Barney Loutrelle as his figure moved off between the trees. He turned about once and waved at her; then, proceeding more swiftly, he soon vanished in a ravine. A few hundred yards further on, she heard the distant echo of a vigorous voice singing the lively tune of an old French song of the time of Napoleon:
". . . à Paris, à Paris . . .
Ah, j'y étais mousquetaire!"
At that point, the St. Florentin road and the path to Wheedon's were just on opposite sides of the rise of ground; and Ethel recognized that it was her newfound friend who was singing to himself as he went on alone to the Rock; and the lilt of the song, reaching her through the still air, stirred the blood to warmth again within her.
"Ah, j'y étais mousquetaire!"
Danger! No fear for him if the danger were honest and open. She glanced ahead and suddenly saw a dark figure, tall and broad but bent a little, standing with back toward her on the top of the ridge,—her grandfather. He, too, seemed to be listening to the singing as he gazed over the ridge toward the path on the other side; he made no move of any sort, but in the very stillness and stealthiness of his standing there—hidden by a tree from view from the other side—she felt menace. Imagined it, perhaps; for her mind was full of many things now.
Her grandfather heard the horses and Sam's voice and turned about. Ethel called up to him and waved; he waved back but for a moment did not reply. That is, he did not reply aloud. He remained standing;; and Ethel knew that he was talking to himself, trying over what first he would say to her before he came down the hill and said it.
"Well, my dear, you're here, are you? Where's your friend from the train? That he, singing, eh? Won't come to my house. Did you ask him?"
"Yes, grandfather. But he said to thank you; he'd call later. He wanted to go first to the Rock."
"So he'll call later, eh? Now who is he? You can tell me that, I see. What's brought him here to the Rock? I'll know all about that fellow."
Ethel gazed into her grandfather's eyes,—little, blood-shot but keen under his low, bushy, white brows. She said nothing aloud as she closed her lips; but to herself, defiance spoke.
"Not from me," the unuttered words determined. "Never from me."