Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 5
CHAPTER VTHE HUNT IN THE NIGHT
IT was fast becoming dark, as the swift, midwinter evening closed down. With the night came wind; and upon the wind returned the cold, not so intense as that of the early morning at Escanaba; nor was the wind as strong as then. The sky stayed clear, showing pale stars through the twilight into which the gaunt outline of the Rock withdrew to dimmer and dimmer distances until Ethel at her window could see it no more. And then, soon after it had vanished, suddenly a bright dot glowed through the darkness,—a light upon Resurrection Rock, a light yellow with distance illumining a window, Ethel thought. It went out as suddenly as it appeared; then it glowed again and once more went dark. But this time it was not snuffed out suddenly but sank so slowly that for a few moments Ethel could not be certain whether or not it was gone. One could do that by slowly turning down a lamp, Ethel considered, or by slowly carrying a lamp away from a window and out of the room. She watched steadily for some time longer; but no light appeared again.
Yet what she had seen made her sure that her friend of the morning was there. Who was with him and what was happening; or what might he be learning, she wondered. What, of such momentous interest to her grandfather?
Her friend out there. Sam had spoken of him as her friend; and he was her friend. It amazed her, when she realized how very close she had come to that young man who had gone alone to the Rock, to count how few hours they had been together. And how clearly her mind gave her vision of him: now as he was beside her on his skis, looking down at her; now as he stood with his hands outstretched before the fire in the cabin, having forgotten her for the instant and dreaming; now as he went away alone down the road to Wheedon's, his voice coming back to her:
"Ah, j'y étais mousquetaire!"
And her grandfather had thought she would sell him out, him who had been the little white boy Barney with the Indians and who had built up his pride; him to whom her father would speak. It had been all very well out in the noon sunshine to say that, since her father had been killed in June, it could not have been he who would have spoken to Barney Loutrelle in London in November; but now it was very dark, with only the shimmer of stars outside above the black boughs of the trees and, within Ethel's room, the only light was coming from the door of the wood stove which stood open a little and let a ruby flicker of flame dance silent shadows on the wall.
How low she would have sunk if—when she was being bribed—she had told about him. He had asked of her no pledge of secrecy; never once had he even said he was speaking in confidence. He had been too certain that she could not repeat to others such matters as he related; besides, if she had sold him out, she somehow would have sold out herself as well. And now, as she sat up in the dark before those dancing shadows on the wall, an idea seized her. If he were her father who would have spoken to Barney Loutrelle, she could not yet guess what her father would have said; but she felt sure that his purpose was to send this new friend here to help her.
She heard a soft tap, tap, tap at her door; and she went over and opened it to find no one in the darkened hall. This gave her a start till she felt something warm and soft moving at her feet,—the collies, Lad and Lass, who had been out with Kincheloe when she arrived. She stooped, patting the sleek bodies which rubbed affectionately against her legs; and the return of the dogs, wet from the snow melting in their long hair, turned Ethel's thought to Miss Platt's husband.
He had always affected the manners of a gallant and always before had made it a particular point to be on hand to greet Ethel when she arrived at St. Florentin. She had been too excited to attribute any significance to his absence this time; but now the fact stirred disquiet. She did not exactly define it to herself; but so far as she considered, it was something like this. Her grandfather had been alarmed by an occurrence this day which was connected with the arrival of Barney Loutrelle and his going to Resurrection Rock; in some way that seemed to threaten her grandfather so that he was likely to make a move against Barney Loutrelle. As her grandfather was here in the house, Ethel had thought of that move as only in preparation; she had forgotten about Kincheloe who had not been in the house but—rather unexpectedly—had been outdoors.
As he had taken the dogs with him, he probably had been on the lake, for the dogs would not have been able to run except on the ice where the wind had cleared the snow. Now what had kept Miss Platt's lazy, comfort-loving husband out so late this evening in the dark and cold?
Ethel went downstairs to find Merrill Kincheloe; and she discovered him sooner than she expected. For the stairways at St. Florentin were carpeted and, as she happened to descend without starting any squeaks in the wood, she came down far enough to glance along the lower hall before Miss Platt's husband was aware that any one was about. She surprised him under the hall light, pressed close to the panels of the "office" door and listening.
He jumped when he saw her, but the next instant he made a really remarkable effort to carry off the situation, greeting Ethel in much the same manner as usual and then asking, almost casually: "Do you know, is Mrs. Kincheloe in there? I wanted to see her but not to interrupt if they were working."
"She's there," Ethel replied superfluously as the vibration of her grandfather's voice was clearly discernible where they were standing. Ethel studied Miss Platt's husband more seriously than she ever had before while he chatted with her in the sitting room, offering his usual, cleverish small talk about general happenings,—the last news of the peace conference, Mrs. Wilson, the prohibition amendment.
Miss Platt's husband was getting along close to forty, and his idleness and vacuity were making ineffaceable marks upon him. His brown hair showed not a filament of gray; and he had kept his skin young,—by cold cream like a woman, Ethel previously had thought. But little pouches puffed under his eyes when he smiled, and his eyes, themselves, were clouded. One formed the impression, even now when he was making no physical effort, that his wind was bad; and thick veins in his hands were other traces which betrayed unpleasantly that this man no longer was the youth that his manner liked to assume.
Whenever Ethel had thought about him before, she had considered him contented as long as he obtained enough from his wife to buy himself good—too good and too youthful—clothes and to indulge in his occasional "business trips", drinking and gambling a little perhaps or "flirting" with younger girls. Ethel did not permit herself to dwell concretely upon men's dissipations. But now she knew that Miss Platt's husband either never was just such a man as that or else recently he had developed more ambitious appetites.
He began talking about himself to her, about a syndicate to develop export trade into which he expected to "put a little money." Miss Platt's husband, no longer satisfied with his allowance from his wife, was thinking money—more money—immediately. Ethel wondered where he expected to get it; and, wondering, she thought about his errand this afternoon, which he had not yet mentioned to her, and his listening at her grandfather's door.
She recognized vaguely that at one time—and perhaps even at this time—Miss Platt could have made money by telling muckrakers about the Cullen private affairs. But Miss Platt did not; she always had been trustworthy. One could not think of her husband as trustworthy. Ethel never imagined that Kincheloe "knew" what Miss Platt must know; and the fact that Ethel had caught him listening at a door to overhear what her grandfather was dictating to Miss Platt proved that she did not confide in her husband. Why? Because he might use his knowledge to betray things for money? Betray what things?
Thus, while Kincheloe was talking to her, she was thinking about her grandfather. She heard him come into the hall several times and turn the telephone bell handle, in vain attempt to call the cabin; for the hour was long past when Asa Redbird should have returned from the railroad. Ethel had learned that part of Asa's errand to Quesnel was to fetch a telegram which her grandfather expected from her uncle Lucas in Chicago. It had not arrived in the morning; and it proved to have been so delayed that every one was at supper when Asa at last returned with a brief message which—like all Cullen business telegrams that had to pass the little country offices—was in a business code.
Lucas at once left the table and, with Miss Platt, went into his office to decipher the brief communication from his son. When he returned to the table, it was so plain that he had exciting news that his wife could not repress her question:
"Something has happened in Chicago, Lucas?"
"Nothing," he denied, and he gulped half a cup of tea, hot. "Nothing at all," he repeated so emphatically that his wife said no more. Ethel offered no comment; she watched Kincheloe as Miss Platt returned to her seat.
He was trying to catch his wife's glance; but Miss Platt avoided looking at him.
"Asa saw several foxes about," she said casually to Ethel; "I suppose they're after our chickens; the foxes are unusually numerous and bold this year, it seems."
"So Naomi told me," Ethel replied. Her grandfather was taking another cup of tea, and she was watching his hand reach for the sugar bowl, miss it and reach again. He was drinking when suddenly he dropped his cup and jerked up and away from the table; Kincheloe and Ethel herself started also as the report of a rifle rang, sharp and clear, outside the house. The gun fired again.
Miss Platt and Ethel's grandmother alike had revealed no alarm.
"Asa said he would get his gun," Miss Platt volunteered quietly, "and come back for the foxes."
"Of course," her husband said, dropping back into his seat.
Lucas remained at the table only a moment before he proceeded to the front room where, in recent years, family prayer was said each evening after supper. His wife followed him, but Ethel went to her own room and from the darkened window looked out to the Rock to see a light glowing there again. This quieted her; yet she went down to the kitchen to ascertain from Mrs. Singlewolf that Asa actually had returned and shot at a fox before she rejoined her grandparents and Miss Platt in the sitting room. Miss Platt's husband had gone out, not taking the dogs this time.
"Asa wounded a fox," Miss Platt explained. "Mr. Kincheloe is helping Asa track him."
Ethel sat down while her grandmother started the victrola to playing "Brighten The Corner Where You Are." Then Lucas read a chapter from the Bible—the eighth of 1st Kings which Ethel decided must be the longest in either testament; after that was prayer; and while she knelt, listening to her grandfather's voice go on and on, an amazing panic possessed her. She was feeling that the long, deliberate reading and now the endless supplication was for a purpose other than devotion, and that purpose was to keep her kneeling in that stuffy room with her face to the back of a chair. She fought this feeling, but it gained new impulse, and suddenly she arose and slipped into the hall where she found her coat and cap and skis. She drew breath, when she opened the outer door, as though she had been stifling; and she went out upon the snow in the direction of the lake.
She heard her grandfather's voice shouting after her; but she did not heed it, and he did not pursue her. It was after eight o'clock and very cold, with a constant wind blowing off the ice. The moon would not rise for several hours, but the stars were shining with midwinter splendour through the pure air, and the snow strengthened their light so that Ethel could see near objects well enough; but the Rock lay lost in obscurity. She gazed frequently for the reappearance of the light which she had seen the hour earlier; so clear was the night that, when she reached the shore, she could see the horizon stars down almost to the level of the ice-sheet. She fancied, indeed, that she could make out the bulk of the Rock eclipsing one of these stars as she moved. Certainly there was no light now upon the Rock; and though she remembered that it had appeared and vanished twice before, its absence filled her with dread.
Yet it might only mean that Barney Loutrelle had left the house on the Rock and was coming to St. Florentin and to her, as she had asked him. No; now the light reappeared and glowed steadily.
She had reached the shore, and she slowed her step. The cold wind blowing in her face and the ice stretching before her, the galaxy of the heavens overhead stilled the panic which had seized her when kneeling in the close, overheated room where her grandfather prayed. Her new friend of this day was at the Rock where his light was burning steadily. Perhaps Miss Platt's husband had gone out there curiously; but nothing else was happening. If she went on to the Rock—and there was no use in going further, without going all the way—and saw Barney Loutrelle there, what would she say to him?
She turned back to St. Florentin and soon heard a shout which she recognized to be Sam Green Sky's voice. When she replied, Sam hastened up, reporting friendlily:
"Old man send me after you, awful mad; old man tell you to come right home and stay there."
Ethel found her grandfather to be "awful mad" indeed; he met her at the door and ordered her to go to her room and to bed and stay there. What did she mean by going out in the dark to see a stranger whom she had met on the train? She was his granddaughter and at his own house, and he would be obeyed.
She obeyed him by going to her room; but she did not undress for bed. The light upon the Rock was still glowing; and she left her window shade up while she lay on her bed watching it. She heard her grandfather and her grandmother come upstairs, and she heard Miss Platt proceed to the rooms on the second floor and at the further end of the house, which she shared with her husband. Ethel was sure also that Mrs. Singlewolf and Naomi had retired; but Kincheloe was not in the house.
He had been away when she had returned, and he had not come in since. At eleven o'clock Ethel rebuilt the fire in her stove and sat in a chair by her window. The light on the Rock continued to burn; but its glow was ceasing to reassure her. From the room on the other side of the wall at her left she could hear sounds which told her that her grandfather was still restless; she heard him open his door and go out into the hall and come to her door and stand there. He was listening, she knew; but as her light was out and she sat quiet, he probably supposed her to be in bed and asleep. At any rate, after waiting a minute or two, he moved away and went downstairs.
She had taken off her boots before lying down and was wearing slippers; but she discarded even these and, in her stocking feet, moved noiselessly across to her door which she opened carefully. She crept halfway down the stairs and there waited for her grandfather, whom she could hear walking about, to come into her view. Something clicked; she recognized that he was loading a repeating rifle; and a few moments later his great figure came dimly into view when he halted before a window. She could see that he was holding his rifle ready but lowered; and her muscles went taut all through her. If he raised his rifle to fire, she would rush down upon him. But he did not; he only moved from one window to another, looking out; and then he came toward the stairs.
She regained her room without alarming him; and he went back to his room. On the Rock, the light had gone out. And being unable now to see anything but the stars and the snow and bare branches of the trees swaying slightly in the wind, Ethel opened her window to listen better. But no sound came to her except the brush of the breeze and, after some time, a call which she recognized as that of a snow owl. Then, close to midnight, she made out a man's figure moving under the trees; dogs floundered beside him—Lad and Lass undoubtedly. So she knew the man must be Kincheloe, returning.
He carried the gun which he had taken to aid Asa in killing the fox; and as he neared the house, Ethel heard her grandfather go downstairs, heard the door open; then—she again was at the head of the stairs whispers. They went together to the "office" and locked themselves in. For a minute Ethel stood in the cold hall, held by numbing dread; just as she started to descend the stairs, she heard the office door open and her grandfather say distinctly, "All right; all right!"
They had lit the office lamp, and the beam of light from the door showed Ethel her grandfather standing while Kincheloe went past him toward the kitchen where he turned on the water. Ethel halted and stood watching her grandfather who remained back to her in the light from the door. She heard Kincheloe leave the kitchen and ascend by way of the back stairs.
Her grandfather slowly turned about, and the light from the office shone upon his face, inclined downward a little, strained and with muscles at the jaw drawn tight. She had only a glimpse before he stepped into the room and turned out the light; but, having seen, she gripped hard at the stair rail for an instant to steady herself before she crept back to her room and shut herself in to think.
Kincheloe and her grandfather were planning some deed,—some wrong, secret act of violence other way could she account for what she had witnessed in that glimpse of her grandfather's face—vindictiveness, triumph, fear. Yes; for fear was there. Fear was in his step now as he passed her door, fear but also determination. He was afraid of what he was to do, but he would go ahead. With what?
Harm—personal, bodily harm. To whom? To her friend of the Rock—Barney Loutrelle, Dick, who would take things over. She turned on her light and dropped into a chair. She was accusing her grandfather of directing a crime; and her grandfather did not direct crimes. Oh, other people had said so; but they had been demagogues, slanderers; no one with any sense believed them. Yet, yet men did direct crimes; some one did; crimes were committed. But not by her grandfather; no!
She heard a whine at her door and the pat of a dog's paw at the panel and, opening the door, she let in Lad and stroked his head. Something matted the white hair under his neck,—something which seemed to have frozen and dried there.
When she realized this was blood, she set her fingers to feeling for a cut from which it might have flowed; and when she could find no wound, she clung to Lad, demanding of him:
"It was the fox, Lad! You caught the fox! Lad, tell me—tell me, you caught the fox!"
But her own terrors denied her; her own terrors snatched at her heart and overwhelmed her struggles for calm thought. The dried, brown mat in the dog's hair was not about his jaws where it must have been had he caught and killed the fox; it was under his neck where it would have come if Lad had sniffed over some one who lay bleeding.
That deed, secret and violent, which Kincheloe and her grandfather had considered,—was it already done? What sort of deed?
"Ah, j'y étais mousquetaire!"
The voice, Barney Loutrelle's voice, seemed to float to her from far away over the snow; and she seemed to see him, when she shut her eyes, lying stretched out, with Lad sniffing over him. She clung to the dog when she switched off her light, and she dragged him to the window with her while she gazed out over the lake, looking for a light on Resurrection Rock; but the night gave her only blackness except for the stars, and except for a square of yellow light on the snow almost immediately below her own windows.
She thought at first, as she gazed down at it, that her grandfather had left a lamp burning below; then she observed that could not be so, but that the light came from overhead, from an attic window where some flickering flame, such as a candle, was burning.
The attic was merely a storeroom, unused by any one. Who would be up there now? Miss Platt's husband? For what purpose?
Ethel went from her room to the steep stairs which led from the second-floor hall to a trapdoor letting into the garret. What she meant to say to Kincheloe, or what she intended to do, she did not yet know; but she climbed and pushed up the trapdoor quietly and entered the bare, unplastered space under the roof.
The electric lights, which had been supplied to the lower rooms, had not been installed here, and of course there was no heat. The space, called a storeroom, had become a repository for all the dilapidated furniture to which old people cling, for their children's cradles and rocking-horses and chairs which had been brought to St. Florentin years ago for Ethel and the other grandchildren. Ethel could see these things in the light of the lantern which stood upon the top of an up-ended trunk. She could hear some one tearing paper; but she could not see who it was till she proceeded further and discovered her grandfather squatted before a heap of old books and receipt cases and files, ledgers and bundles of documents, dust-encrusted and brown with age, which had lain undisturbed in that corner of the attic floor as long as Ethel could remember.
Her grandfather had cut the strings binding some of the bundles, and he sneezed from the cold and from the dust he raised as he tore the old paper across. He looked about suddenly and, seeing Ethel, rose to his feet.
"What d'you want here?" he demanded.
"What are you doing?" she returned in defiance. "Grandfather, what's brought you up here?"
He advanced upon her for answer and, as the lantern now was behind him, she could not see his face. He seized her and by physical force thrust her toward the trapdoor.
"Lad came back with blood on him," she cried. "Blood!"
"Of course; he caught the fox. You—you—go to your bed and stay there."
She found her feet upon the stairs, and she went down; he lowered the trapdoor as she descended and, when he had closed it, she heard him move something upon it. For a few moments she stood trembling in the dark, too overwrought for any ordered thought; then she went to the end of the hall which was Miss Platt's and her husband's and rapped upon their door.
No one answered for some time; then Miss Platt's voice asked who was there; and when Ethel replied, Miss Platt came to the other side of the door but did not open it.
"What is the matter, Miss Carew?" she inquired.
"I want to see Mr. Kincheloe!" Ethel said.
"But he has retired."
"Nevertheless I must see him!"
"But my dear Miss Carew, surely you are upset; surely Mr. Cullen does not know—"
Ethel interrupted this by putting her hand upon the knob and trying the door, only to find it locked. She ceased to argue and went away.
When she returned to her room and threw herself across her bed, it was without thought of sleep.
"They've done it—they've done it," she repeated again and again to herself, without yet daring to allow any closer defining of "it." But whatever it was, "it" was done. Here in the house with her were two who had planned or had part in "it"; and one of them was her grandfather.
She heard him descend from the garret and go into his room; she heard him open the door of the stove in his room; she even heard—or fancied that she heard—the roar of flames in the stove consuming papers. But now she made no move. "It" was done; and whatever she might attempt could not undo it; she could only—do what?
Her mind halted at thinking of that and returned her to feelings, feelings new to her that day, emotions and sensations stirred wondrously and delightfully by Barney Loutrelle. For brief intervals she probably slept, at least she lost full consciousness in exhaustion, rousing to alarmed wakefulness in which she tried to think that all she had witnessed and felt that night must be a dream. Then passed a period in which, wide awake, she drove her mind to other thoughts: to people she knew in Wyoming, to visions of the plains, the old ranch house which she first remembered; but that brought her back to her father; and he had wished to speak to Barney Loutrelle. She thought of her visit in Chicago, reviewing little, personal details,—the dance to which Bennet had taken her, the talk of her aunt Myra's friends, and her own reading aloud of Les Miserables to her uncle Lucas. But that brought her back to St. Florentin again.
Toward morning, the new moon stood in the cold sky; and when she saw its light, she thought of going out then. But she did not. She waited until dawn was spreading over the eastern sky before she went downstairs, carrying her shoes; she put them on and found her skis. The dogs roused and danced about her; she took them out with her and made for the lake.
The light had strengthened sufficiently to show her the gaunt outlines of Resurrection Rock, white and lifeless above the lake ice. When she glanced back toward St. Florentin, she saw that some one was following her from her grandfather's house, a man who must be Kincheloe. He did not motion to her or try to hail her; he merely followed. And suddenly she changed her plan and swung from the direct line to the shore and cut into the woods to the little clearing where Asa Redbird lived.
He possessed a little, two-roomed cabin of rough boards covered with builder's paper and with a sheet-iron stovepipe protruding through the roof. The door was closed and the windows were dark, and only such smoke rose from the pipe as the smoldering embers of the night fire would give; so she knew that Asa was not yet awake. But her approach with Lad and Lass stirred the Indian's dogs; and bedlam broke loose in the little cabin as she came up.
Asa Redbird was fully aroused, therefore, when he opened the door to look out. Having slept in his clothing, he was dressed; but even so, Ethel knew he would require a few moments before being ready to start; and as she glanced back through the trees, she saw that Kincheloe had delayed only an instant to watch her and now was going on toward the lake.
"I want you to come right away out to the Rock, Asa," she said. "I'm going there; come after me quick as you can. You understand?"
If he were Sam, questions would have followed; but Asa only looked over her again and said that he understood.
She turned away and started directly for the Rock. And as she went, she wondered if she had been cowardly and therefore had made a mistake in stopping for Asa. Kincheloe was ahead of her now and hurrying, without apparent regard for her and without looking back.