Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 4

Resurrection Rock  (1920)  by Edwin Balmer
The Household of St. Florentin

CHAPTER IVTHE HOUSEHOLD OF ST. FLORENTIN

WHEN she was obliged to reply, she only repeated the fact of her meeting with Barney Loutrelle as she had related it over the telephone. Of course it did not satisfy her grandfather; and he stood in the snow studying her while, in answer to his demands, she told him further circumstances of her first words with the stranger.

"I heard him asking about St. Florentin," she said. "No one knew where it was. I told him."

"All right; all right; go on."

"So he got off at Quesnel; I did, too. Asa was there, and we borrowed his skis for Mr. Loutrelle and came to Wheedon's road together."

"All right; all right," her grandfather jerked again curtly. He kicked his feet out of his snowshoes and sat down on the side of the sled, hooking the shoes up with his toes and laying them on the sled floor. "Drive on, Sam."

The Indian, who had frankly turned about in his seat to glean information about the stranger who had gone to Wheedon's, delayed a minute more while he lit a fresh cigarette from the stub of the old one. His beady, black eyes, half closed by the fat of his cheeks as he drew at his cigarette, squinted at Lucas. Sam had become aware, quite as well as had Lucas, that Ethel was concealing interesting details; and he observed now that the old man had given up questioning her because of his presence. Accordingly Sam now volunteered:

"I tell 'em 'bout Bagley come. They want to know."

He made the statement casually and quite without taking sides in the opposition which had sprung up between the girl and the old man. Sam was concerned simply in developing more facts.

"Loutrelle asked about Bagley?" Lucas challenged Ethel.

"I did," Ethel returned. "When Sam said some one had come to the Rock, I asked who."

Lucas glanced at Sam who was ready for more conversation; but immediately the old man remembered himself and looked down the road. "Drive on, Sam," he commanded again. He would not question an Indian about affairs of his granddaughter.

Sam started the horses and gazed away to the distant Rock. "Damn funny business," he repeated his comment cheerfully; and except for the breathing of the mares, the scrape and slap of harness straps and the creak of the wood runners in the snow, there was silence. Over the hillock, the sound of singing had died away.

Ethel sat silent beside her grandfather who soon offered talk about uncontentious family matters: how his son Lucas was feeling this winter and what he said about bolshevism.

"Feed the fools? Feed the fools?" the old man mocked, when Ethel related what her uncle thought. "Machine-gun them, I say. What's the matter with Lucas and his rotten soft generation? That boy Bennet back from Camp Taylor yet?"

"Yes, grandfather," Ethel said.

"Hope the army put some stiff backbone into him. We're going to need backbone, I see. Where is Bennet? In your uncle's office again?"

Ethel related details of her cousin's return to business in the Chicago office and items about Aunt Myra's activities in relief organizations, while her grandfather interjected curt criticisms or grunts of approval. His mind always had been keenly alert; he still had excellent eyes, and since his withdrawal to St. Florentin, he had become an indefatigable reader, subscribing not only to all local newspapers and to one daily from Chicago but to more than a score of magazines ranging from the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Economist, of which he partly approved, to the New Republic and the Nation which infuriated him so that he read them through usually upon the hour they arrived; and thereafter, for a day or two, he would compose biting and unanswerable rejoinders to their lunacies which he would repeat to his wife or any guest in the house and which he might even write out. But he never mailed them.

He was rehearsing to Ethel his latest retort for the editor of the New Republic when the sled reached the ruins of the old village,—the windowless, unroofed shacks, the rifted store building and the church with the gray, wind-splintered cross. The emptiness of the place affected Ethel in spite of her many former visits; she had never learned to pass through without glancing at the windows for a face or looking for doors to open and listening for a sound. But her grandfather did not turn his head or pause in his recital of his sarcastic paragraphs. Sam Green Sky also sat motionless, smoking and looking toward the great, rambling "cottage" which was looming on the top of the next slope. Lucas had had his home painted a brownish-red last summer, with a trim done in a lighter shade of brown which brought out the bold, ungraceful lines of the porch running across the whole front of the house and extending about halfway back on both sides.

The house faced south toward the lake, but it had doors on all sides. An even, uncompromising row of windows—seven to the south, six to the west—looked out under the porch roof; above the porch, the second-floor windows exactly matched the lower rows; and there you could see more plainly that the center three of the front windows were set in "bow." The walls were clapboard; the roof was shingle and with gutters and rainspout in good repair to catch and pipe rain water to a cistern. Fifty yards away, behind the house, was a barn, similarly clapboarded and painted to match the house; and in the earlier days of Ethel's visits there had been a delightful old clapboard windmill. But several years ago it had been torn down, and Lucas had substituted the neat, low, flat-roofed structure which now stood over the deep-driven well and sheltered the gasoline engine which pumped water to the house and generated electricity for light and power.

Every one was well at the house, and everything was going well there, Lucas had assured in reply to Ethel's questions. The persons whom he grouped under "every one" were his wife and "Miss Platt" and "Miss Platt's husband." Long ago, when Lucas still had his office upon Dearborn Street in Chicago, Miss Platt had been his private secretary; she had been about thirty, then,—a large-boned, firmly built, phlegmatic woman with dull, hazel eyes and lusterless, sand-colored hair. She was one of those women so lacking in feminine charm as to be set down, thoughtlessly, as almost sexless, but whom undisclosed fires of passion consume and who put up with almost anything to be married.

She had a clear head and an orderly disposition, together with a capacity for secretiveness which had made her worth thirty-five hundred a year to Lucas Cullen in those old days when demagogues were "investigating" his affairs. This salary, with its prospects of increase as the attacks upon Lucas became more savage, was sufficient to enable her to attract a lazy, good-looking youth named Merrill Kincheloe, seven years younger than herself. She married him and thereafter supported him, to her employer's exceeding disgust. Lucas never let her marriage change her name to him and, when he had been obliged to refer to Kincheloe, it had been always as "Miss Platt's husband." She had left the Cullen employ when Lucas "retired"; but a few years ago he had sent for her; and with her came her husband, for some of the time, at least. He spoke of himself as a "road salesman" to explain his long absences, and Miss Platt pretended that, when he went away, it was on business.

By the statement that everything was going well, Lucas meant that he had capable house servants,—two in number just now, a half-blood Indian woman named Mrs. Singlewolf and her daughter Naomi who wintered at St. Florentin after the summer boarding-houses in Petoskey closed. All but Miss Platt's husband were at the door as the sled drew up before the porch; and Ethel felt a rush of love as she saw her grandmother. She was a little woman, thin and shrunken now but erect, with spirit unbroken by her many years; far more than her husband, she made Ethel think of life in the timberlands when her husband and she were young. He spoke often of those old days and she seldom; but his talk was of the millions of feet of lumber which he had made a tract of land furnish to the saws, while her few remembrances were of homely happenings like weddings and births and deaths of the people of the old forest. Ethel had not seen her grandmother since her father had died; and she had not realized till now that her grandmother was dearer to her than any one living. So she cried a little as she kissed her soft, wrinkled cheek. "There; there, Debsie; Debsie," the old lady patted and comforted her, calling the granddaughter by the daughter's name; and her own old eyes were wet.

Ethel shook hands with Miss Platt and said a few words to the Indians. Sam bore firewood through the hall and up the stairs, and she followed to the room on the second floor which always had been hers,—a large, pleasant room, almost square, with windows on the south and on the west. It was heated by a big iron register in the center of the floor which brought hot air from the wood furnace in the basement; but the room also possessed a Franklin stove in which maple logs were burning hotly.

Sam put down his load and officiously adjusted the drafts of the stove, delaying to speak to Ethel alone.

"Look here; I talk too much?"

"Oh, no," Ethel denied.

"Don't want to make you no trouble," Sam apologized handsomely, and departed. Then Ethel's grandmother came in, carrying a tray with hot cocoa and a dish of rice and a plate of rolls and fruit preserve. Ethel hugged her again and thanked her; and the old lady patted Ethel's hand, said the jam was made from their own raspberries and departed. Ethel had tried not to betray that she wanted to be alone; but her grandmother always understood such things; and Ethel knew she was not offended.

Now that the door was closed, Ethel deserted her tray and went to the window overlooking the lake. Resurrection Rock, except that it was closer, had altered in no aspect from the hour before; not enough time had passed to permit Barney Loutrelle to reach it, so Ethel scanned the ice-sheet and the snow for sign of a moving figure. She made out a dark dot two miles or more away; and dragging her table nearer the window, she watched the dot while she ate.

Slowly it approached the Rock; and Ethel thought of the telescope which her grandfather used in the open season to identify ships passing in the channel for the Straits; it usually hung in a case in a closet off the hall; going to the closet, she found the case in place but the telescope was gone. Returning to her window, she glanced toward the projecting "bow" of three windows in front of her grandfather's room and through the side window, she saw the end of the telescope tube and her grandfather's hand holding it to point toward the speck approaching the Rock. She could not see her grandfather's face, just the end of the telescope and his right hand and forearm steadily supporting the tube, so steadily that his tension amazed her.

She looked quickly to the lake; but she could not see the speck of the man moving out there, as he had vanished into the shadow on the north side of the Rock. She waited for him to climb to the top, straining her eyes to see him on the path by which he must approach the house; but she could discern nothing but the bulk of the Rock with the snow-covered house merged into it. She glanced at her grandfather's window to find his hand still holding the telescope pointed; through it, he was seeing—what? And why should he care so much? What influence supplied steadiness to his hand to hold the glass motionless so long?

He suddenly became conscious that she observed him; or perhaps he had seen all he wished; for his hand drew back, and the glass was gone.

Ethel shivered and retreated from her window to the stove where she finished her cocoa which had become cold. It was remarkable that whereas early in the morning her business affairs had so absorbed her that she could not sleep, now the concerns of a stranger had made her forgetful of her own. She partly undressed and bathed her face and arms; after again dressing, she took from her overcoat pocket a large envelope filled with the business papers over which she had been puzzling on the train. Separating a few sheets of summaries, she folded them in her hand and went downstairs to the big, cluttered room at the southwest corner of the house which her grandfather called his office. The door was open, and a fire was glowing, half burnt out, upon the wide hearth within; but no one was there when Ethel entered. She always had liked this big room which really was less an office than a museum of trophies from her grandfather's long life; but now she was conscious of something more than her old curiosity as she moved about before the articles on display,—a framed woodcut of Lincoln printed in 1860 by the little Ohio newspaper for which Lucas Cullen had worked when a boy; souvenirs which he had picked up in Virginia—he had been only sixteen when he ran away and joined the army of the Potomac; his discharge papers; pictures of men, prominent and powerful in their days of the '70s in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, but now forgotten; here was the framed menu of a dinner to him at the old Tremont House in Chicago; faded and drooping cockades from the Blaine convention and the Harrison campaign; an inscription from Robert Ingersoll and one from Lyman Trumbull.

The furniture of the room also was composed of trophies: the scarred and shabby desk pitted with black holes where great men, in arguing with Lucas, had laid their lighted cigars; the old, hair-cloth lounge; the rows of brittle-backed books—faded brown and yellowish-green and blue—contending projects and issues of two generations ago. Only in the corner where Miss Platt had her desk and typewriter table was a patch of modern office furnishings with vertical filing cases and card index boxes.

A pile of newly typed sheets upon Miss Platt's desk indicated to Ethel that her grandfather had been unusually busy that morning; but the prominent letterhead of a Methodist missionary society suggested that his activities might have been concerned with the religious work which recently had begun to claim much of his time. She turned away to the fire, thinking of her grandfather dictating his letters to the missionaries whom he supported in Africa and India and Malaysia; then came the image of him as she had seen him standing on the hill looking at Barney Loutrelle; and she recalled his hand, so remarkably steady and intent, holding the glass toward the Rock.

"Ethel!" she heard his voice calling her. He had come downstairs and was looking for her in the sitting room. She hurried to the door as she replied. "Oh; in there," he returned. "All right; stay there." And, as she retreated, he came into the room and closed the door behind him. "Forgot you came on business," he said, looking at the papers which she held. "Business," he repeated to himself; then, at her, "All right; let me hear it."

He sank down into the chair before his desk which was a swivel chair that tipped back when he threw his weight into it. In order to keep balanced, he hunched slightly forward and with the toe of his shoe he pulled out the desk drawer nearest to the floor and rested his leg upon it. There are attitudes taken by very old persons which may suddenly shear years from them in spite of wrinkled skin and whiteness of hair and dullness of eye; for when an old man forgets for the moment that he is aged, a throwback in his mind causes him to follow a physical habit discarded decades earlier. Lucas Cullen was following such a habit now, resting his foot upon the drawer, hunching his big shoulders toward his granddaughter and with one of his large, bony hands half clenched upon his desk. His other hand went to his forehead, and he combed his hair with his fingers; he had as much hair as ever he had had in the days when his thick, intractable mat was his mark of surest identification in newspaper cartoons.

Ethel felt that she was seeing him almost as he must have been in the vigor of his great deeds of the time of the Tremont House dinner and the cockades on the wall. He took his hand from his hair and, without glancing away from her, he fumbled in a pigeonhole, found a big cigar and put it between his lips, chewing it and leaving it unlighted. Vacancy had come to his eyes; and she knew, though he stared at her, his thought had gone from the "business" which brought her and had run into distant memories of events underlying his relation to her father's affairs. "Let me hear it," he commanded once more, coming back to himself.

"I've come for money, grandfather," she confessed at once. "A good deal of money, some of which I need immediately." She knew it was better to confess that unpleasant fact at once rather than to start with reasons and have him break in upon her, as she had heard him interrupt other pleaders, with his demand, "Well; well; what does all this talk lead to? Money, I suppose."

He said part of that, anyway. "I supposed it was money. Well, how much?"

"I've the total here; the dates mean the time when I ought to have the different amounts," she explained, trembling in spite of herself when she took the top sheet from the papers folded in her hand and spread it before him. She turned and went to the fire so as not to see him when he began to scrutinize it.

"All right; all right," his voice, deep and rasping, brought her around to him again. He liked to employ, in ejaculations, words which bore a meaning opposite to the tone in which he spoke. "Now why do you need this small change which you've marked immediate'? Why won't to-morrow do for a dollar or so of that?

Ethel faced him, biting her lips before she trusted herself to reply; she knew that he did not mean tomorrow literally and that this was his favorite way of speaking when he wished to torment one whom he held at a disadvantage; yet she found herself saying,

"To-morrow will do, grandfather; or indeed, next week will do wonderfully, if I can be sure of that first amount. I've written the names of the places where I want to put the money after each item; you have them, you see."

"They mean nothing whatever to me; your father refrained from taking me into his affairs."

She knew that this latter statement was true; but the other was not. She recently had learned that her grandfather had informed himself fully about her father's business; nevertheless she recognized that, for purposes of his own, he meant to force her to explain as if he were completely ignorant.

"Those are the names of irrigation and development companies and water-power plants in Montana and Wyoming, mostly, with one in Idaho. Their names show their location, grandfather; the first five are almost ready for operation; the others are not. I want the money marked 'immediate' to complete the first five and get them running. If I do not do that, the leases—or the purchase contracts—will lapse."

"That's too bad. Who made the leases and contracts?"

"My father."

"When?"

"Some of them many years ago; others more recently. The dates of the leases are here." She furnished him with another sheet of figures.

He only grunted as he glanced over it and stopped chewing his cigar. He found a match in his vest pocket and, scratching it under his desk, he lighted his cigar now and, leaned back, puffing, as he laid down the papers. "All right; what happens if they lapse?"

"Father's interest—my interest now," Ethel said quietly, "of course is lost. I suppose I'm thinking a good deal about that; I know I'm thinking a lot about having the things which father worked at so hard, succeed; but that's not most important. It's to see that father's friends and our neighbors out west—and neighbors and friends include a whole lot of all sorts of people in Wyoming and Montana—to see that they get their money back. Some of them put all they had into these companies, they trusted father so. They thought he was going to live and see everything through."

"Well, why didn't he?"

"He didn't foresee the war, grandfather."

"So when it came, he considered it excused him of all responsibilities, eh? He packed up and off without making any provision for these obligations," the old man picked up the papers to strike them against his desk, "or for his friends who trusted everything to him?"

"No," Ethel denied; and of this she knew her grandfather was completely aware. "He made an arrangement."

"All right; who with?"

"With cousin Oliver, grandfather."

The old man jerked forward, roused to anger at mention of the name. "Damn weakling," he muttered. "What arrangement did he enter into?"

Ethel felt hot blood pricking in her face; she had prepared herself for the taunts against her father who in his life had been strong, but she had not thought of jibes against this cousin who had been his friend.

"Cousin Oliver felt himself physically a—weakling," she said, utilizing her grandfather's word after an instant's hesitation. "That was why he came to father. Cousin Oliver tried to get into service everywhere, but no one would take him; he knew father wanted to go, so he agreed to see everything through for father while he'd be away and, if father was killed, cousin Oliver promised to complete all this work."

"All right; let me see the agreement."

"I haven't it."

"A copy will do."

"It never was written; it was just verbal; that was all father cared about from cousin Oliver—that he said it and that cousin Agnes knew about it, too. You see he never could imagine that cousin Oliver and cousin Agnes, and he, himself, would all die. It seemed safe. Besides, it wasn't the sort of promise you could write up in an agreement."

"No, I suppose not. But now that Oliver and his wife both are dead, where are you?"

The blood flashed again, burning, into Ethel's face. "Why I'm here, grandfather, asking the money from you."

"I'll not give it to you on that showing."

"I ask you to lend, not to give."

"Why don't you go to a bank, then?"

"I've been to banks; they say they can't lend upon uncompleted projects like mine."

"You've been to your uncles?"

"I saw uncle Lucas in Chicago."

"What did he say?"

"He refused me."

"So you came to work upon my natural affections for you?"

"Yes," Ethel said. "Yes; I suppose you may say I've done that."

Her grandfather slowly drew his leg back from the drawer; suddenly he kicked the drawer shut and with his hands upon the desk, he pushed himself up to his feet. He was still a towering man in spite of the slight stoop which took more than an inch from the stature which had distinguished the days of his great vigor; he had never taken on flesh, and now his muscles were so firm that in limb he might have been twenty years younger than he was; and his big hand was steady as he raised it and brandished it at his granddaughter.

"Your father believed he was so smart—so smart," he gloated over her; and she knew, even before he reached the next words, that he had gone far back of immediate matters to the causes of antagonism long ago. "He carried off my daughter and thought he could win against me! He sided with John—John," he repeated the name of his brother violently. "Well, it did look like good business then. John seemed to have stronger hold on the property than I had. But your father forgot about longevity. John was under the sod before he was seventy. Your father forgot about my sons, too. John had Oliver—damn weakling; so he's under the sod, too; his wife's below the waves; and everything they had's in court. But it's coming to me! It's got to come to me!" he repeated, snapping off each word short and flailing with his arm for emphasis. "And you got to come to me if you want anything; everything, everybody's got to come to me! For I'm alive and they're all dead! To live—just to keep breath in you, that's something. John didn't think of that. Couldn't see why I'd care about living—up here. But I'm living; he's under the sod. No doctors put blood-pressure machines on me. I've got everything now; or I'm going to get it—everything they had and everything they thought they took away from me, John and Oliver—damn weaklings—and that damn wife of Oliver's who couldn't even die decently but had to be drowned so as to throw everything into court. But it'll come to me, I tell you; and I'll be alive to get it!"

He jerked about and strode across the room, stumbling over the edge of the heavy rug; he caught himself, with a violent ejaculation, and flung back the rug with his foot. Ethel stayed by the fire, watching him. She saw that his outburst had gone further than he meant it to, that he had betrayed more to her than he had intended; and she stood, breathing hard in the first throes of examination of him.

She was beginning to realize that up to this day her questions about her grandfather and her father's relations with him and with the others of the family had been merely curious. What was, was; and she had accepted it without embarking upon any real effort for understanding. She had said to herself, as she had repeated often to others, that her grandfather "liked to live" at St. Florentin. She had never thought about him coming here in order to be sure to live and to outlive his brother and his brother's son. There was something about that which shot a strange, unwelcome sensation through her,—her grandfather stalking through the woods gloating that he was living while his brother, down in the city, was dying, and his brother's son a "weakling" and also likely to die so that everything should come to him. And now that she was ceasing to accept what was, she knew that the reason just betrayed was not sufficient to account for St. Florentin; some cause which cut far deeper had been operating and was beginning to affect her.

She watched him as he went to a window and, catching at the crossrail, stood staring out while he recovered himself. For a few moments, he seemed not to be seeing but simply to be staring. Then he jerked straight, and Ethel knew that he had begun to see and that what he saw was the Rock, gaunt and glistening in the last rays of the declining sun.

Her grandfather slowly turned about, his lips moving in words to himself; then he advanced toward her and said aloud:

"You want about two hundred thousand dollars immediately?"

He had dropped both the boasting of the moment before and the taunting tone of his first questions. Ethel did not understand this quiet statement.

"One hundred and eighty-five thousand is the total I put down as necessary now, grandfather," she said.

"Practically two hundred thousand; call it that," he corrected generously. "Well—well, it may be managed. It may be managed." He was attempting to reproduce, now, the indulgent manner he used to take with her long ago when she was a little girl and came to him for dimes and quarters and half dollars for children's trinkets. "Of course, if we toss that in," he continued, "we must be prepared to toss more after it. Everything must be seen through. And that will run into money—into something like money." He had halted over his desk and had picked up the paper of her totals again and was looking at them.

"But the properties, if developed, will be worth more," Ethel said.

"Maybe. Maybe. At least you think so. Well; well, my dear, I'll think it over carefully." He folded the papers and put out his hand for the others which she had retained; she gave them to him with a few words of explanation, and he folded them with the first and put them in his pocket. His manner now seemed to mean that he had postponed consideration which he was inclined to make favorable. He patted Ethel's arm fondly.

"Now, my dear, tell me about that fellow Loutrelle who came over with you and went to Wheedon's."

She drew back a little from him. Then it was his sight of the Rock which, the minute before, had changed him!

"Why, grandfather," she said, "I've told you a good deal about him; I just met him on the train this morning."

He seized her, as the passion which he had with difficulty put down rose to mastery of him again.

"That's a lie—a lie!" he charged. "You're friends; you know all about him. You're—friends!"

She struggled to break the hold of his hand upon her shoulder, the blood hot within her. "I don't lie!" she defied him. "I do know more about him than I told you; but what I said was true. I told you he was going to the Rock. We both—both of us saw him go there, I think."

She witnessed no effect upon him from that. "You're friends—friends!" he accused her. "Miss Platt heard Sam telling Naomi that a friend of yours came with you. Now are you going to tell me about him?"

"No."

"What?"

"No!"

He bent over her. "All right; all right!" he said at last, pulling her papers from his pocket and thrusting them at her. He went past her to Miss Platt's desk, where he put his hand to a push button. Ethel could hear a bell ringing in some other part of the house and, knowing that she was dismissed, she went out, meeting Miss Platt in the hall.

"Beautiful afternoon," Miss Platt said agreeably.

"Beautiful," Ethel acquiesced and, avoiding the lighted sitting room where her grandmother might be waiting, she returned to her bedroom.