Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 6
CHAPTER VITHE HOUSE ON THE ROCK
AT moments, the sight of Kincheloe hastening ahead of her lessened her feeling that he had taken part in some violent act during the night. She thought that if he had been guilty of what she dreaded, he would be afraid to go openly to the Rock.
He was on skis, as was she; but when he reached the shore and encountered the hummocks of hard-frozen snow and spray which everywhere fringed the lake ice, he removed his skis and turned about, delaying. The dogs were accompanying her, scrambling along on the crust over the stretches where the wind had packed the snow hard and floundering willingly through the softer patches.
"Here, Lad; here, Lass!" Kincheloe shouted to them, his voice borne by the wind; and at the call the collies strained forward eagerly.
"Lad! Lass!" Ethel spoke to them in opposition.
The dogs looked about, puzzled; they halted, panting and tossing their heads from master shouting far ahead to mistress speaking to them from near-by. They stayed with Ethel, and Kincheloe proceeded alone out upon the smooth ice.
She reached the fringe of the snow and removed her skis. Watching Kincheloe, she thought that his attempt to take the dogs from her was not as trivial as he had tried to make it seem. He was still far ahead of her, but he was exhibiting an uneasiness which restored to Ethel her fears of the night. Miss Platt's husband seemed to be losing determination; he no longer was hurrying but was glancing back often at her, and he was wandering off from the direct line to Resurrection Rock.
She noticed that something on the shore seemed to disturb him and, looking about, Ethel observed that Asa Redbird had emerged from the trees and was hastening after them. Asa was carrying his rifle, and this reinforcement evidently decided Kincheloe to abandon his race for the Rock; and although Ethel had been endeavoring only to reach the Rock before Kincheloe, now she called to him as he circled away to return to the shore and she ran after him. The dogs dashed ahead of her and jumped upon their master in all good friendship, yet they impeded his retreat, so Miss Platt's husband halted and waited.
When she had gone to his room in the night and his wife had protected him, Ethel had thought of him as frightened and cringing; just now, when she had been pursuing him, she had fancied him pale, with set lips and with eyes shifting and bright. But she found him quite different from her imaginings, so different indeed that she recalled his remarkable recovery of composure when she had surprised him listening at her grandfather's door.
"Hello, Miss Carew," he hailed her before she had time to catch her breath. "Changing your mind? You're not going to make a daybreak call after all?"
"Daybreak call?" she repeated. "Where?"
"On your friend of the train; or weren't you bound out to visit him?" he asked with unpleasant implication.
"Visit him?" she iterated, stupid in her astonishment at this tack which he had taken.
"Down, Lad!" Kincheloe yelled at the dog who had leaped on him again, and he struck at the collie too roughly. He glanced up at Ethel boldly, too boldly; and he carefully drew himself straight.
She had been thinking that crime and fear of consequences would have weakened this languorous, sensuous man whom she had known as Miss Platt's husband; but if he had been guilty of a crime, the result was to make him bolder than before.
"What were you coming out here for?" she demanded of
"I?" he said. "Why, I was following you."
"Following in front of me?"
"Oh, I thought you were steering this way."
"Because you knew I had reason to come out to see what you did last night? What did you do at the Rock last night? And why? Why did you do it?"
"Why did I do what?" he demanded of her in reply. "What are you talking about?"
"About what you did to—"
"To Mr. Loutrelle."
"Oh!" he laughed suddenly and queerly. "Oh!"
A few minutes ago she had thought of seizing Kincheloe when she caught him and of somehow holding him under restraint, but now she was recoiling from him.
"Are you crazy, Miss Carew?" he challenged, advancing a little. "Mr. Loutrelle's your dear friend of the train, I suppose. Why, I haven't even seen him—not even seen him. Why should I do anything to him, anyway? Tell me that!"
"Then where were you?"
"Where was I when?"
"Last night. I saw how you came in."
"Then you saw your grandfather meet me."
"Well—" he hesitated.
"Where I was was his business, I should say Mrs. Kincheloe's. What's it of yours, anyway? What did you mean by coming to my room for me? What have you to talk about—out here yourself at this time in the morning?"
She made no response but to move away. He was serving his own purposes, not hers, by delaying her in argument; he walked beside her, talking in an attempt to divert her; failing, he abruptly parted from her, shouting to the dogs to follow him. She summoned them sharply and when they bounded to her, she seized their collars and held them against his repeated shouts. Then Asa approached, and Kincheloe walked rapidly away.
"You want me to stop him?" Asa inquired when he came up.
Ethel shook her head. "Just come with me."
She released the dogs and they stayed near-by while she proceeded with Asa. The Indian asked no questions and offered no comments, contenting himself with answering when she inquired about the chase of the fox the evening before. Yes, Merrill Kincheloe had started out with them; but he did not catch the fox, which Asa had shot. Asa did not know whether Kincheloe had caught another fox or not.
They began to see that the windows of the house, which always before had borne shutters, now exposed panes to the light; they could see that paths had been dug on Resurrection Rock; they could see streaks and soil in the snow on the roof of the house which indicated that smoke recently had blown from the chimneys; but now no vapor was visible, not even such emanation of smoldering embers as had risen from Asa's stovepipe. The house was bleak and lifeless, while the evidences of recent occupation, instead of diminishing, strangely increased its air of desolation. Probably this feeling was largely the result of images which possessed Ethel; but images affected the Indian, too.
She had not yet inquired of Asa whether he knew of any unusual occurrence here during the night because she had assumed that he would not know. Inquiring, she was answered now by a negative; but Asa's eyes roved uneasily about the house, and he plainly was reluctant to proceed.
Yet he helped her over the rough hummocks which the waves of the early winter had thrown up about the base of the Rock; they ascended the path at the northern end of the island to a clump of pine and cedar which clung in a hollow; they passed a clear space where the Indian fisherman of long ago had planted his squash and potatoes and where Halford—whom Ethel could just remember—had kept his vegetable garden.
She was thinking of Halford and wondering about him, not in any separation from her anxiety for Barney Loutrelle. Halford's vigil upon the Rock many years ago must have been connected, she thought, with all the strange circumstances surrounding the place which yesterday had reached a certain culmination in the coming of Barney Loutrelle from abroad under directions from London. Recalling to herself the extraordinary text of those directions, she thought of her discussion of them with him—how he had showed her his ring, their long walk together, the delight of their delay in the little cabin and their impromptu luncheon of tea and crackers. Her shoulders jerked in a spasm of feeling, and she went on rapidly to the house.
The north end was the rear, and the door on that side opened, she supposed, into a kitchen. The house, which was perhaps forty feet wide and somewhat longer in its north and south dimension, was an adaptation of a châlet type, having two floors under a low, gracefully sloping roof which spread wide eaves over the front and back. There was no penthouse or projection at the rear; a couple of steps led to a solid door flanked by windows which were closed and locked, but which had curtains hanging within and shades raised about halfway. Ethel kept glancing at these windows as she approached; she found a bell handle beside the door and, pulling it, she heard a bell jangling within.
It roused no response; so she pulled several times and had Asa pound the door with the butt of his rifle. He shouted, and the dogs excitedly leaped about and barked loudly; but no one answered; no one appeared at a window; the whole house was still. Ethel led Asa around to the west side. She knew that the front of the house was so close to the edge of the Rock that the front door faced only a small platform at the top of a stairway cut in the rock and communicating with another platform, just above the lake level, which evidently was planned as a landing stage for small boats in summer. The west door, accordingly, was the main entrance, and Ethel found there a heavy, varnished oak door with three long lights set vertically in place of panels in the upper half. The glass over the knob had been broken and pulled out.
A plain, storm door—now removed—ordinarily protected this oak door; so the glass must have been broken after the recent opening of the house. This evidence of violence accordingly shortened the moments that Ethel was willing to wait after vainly pulling the bell. She thrust an arm through the hole so plainly prepared for turning the lock from the outside and, opening the door, she entered.
"You want dogs?" Asa whispered to her, stepping into the hall immediately behind her and catching her arm to prevent her from proceeding alone.
"No; we'd better keep them out."
The Indian closed the door upon them. "You stay there!" he commanded. "You be quiet."
He had made no comment upon discovering the broken glass, as he had yet volunteered no remark about any of the proceedings. But now he said:
"Bagley got key from Wheedon; Barney Loutrelle come yesterday when Bagley right here and let him in. You know that?"
"I'd supposed so," Ethel said. She recognized that Asa was informing her that neither Bagley nor Barney Loutrelle would have broken the glass over the lock. Asa was maintaining his grasp of her sleeve while they stood listening and looking around. There was no sound from within the house; the dull, frequent noises were echoes of the ice cracking or lifting or settling as some current swept around Resurrection Rock and the warmer temperatures of the water encountered the frigid sheath of the surface.
The hall was wide and pleasant, lit by two windows as well as by the panes in the door; it was furnished as a sort of lounging room with gay, bright wall paper picturing tall herons standing in river reeds. There were pretty, painted chairs in gray and gold, matching a table and a lounge which had cushions of black silk embroidered with gold herons. Underfoot was a handsome, silky rug in the blue and yellow designs of the Chinese weaver. It showed no wear or soil; nothing showed use.
Ethel stood amazed at the beauty and brightness of the place; as she had never viewed the interior and had observed the exterior only when all the windows were shuttered, she had thought of the rooms as gloomy or, at least, as severe and masculine; but now she found herself thinking of a woman in connection with this house on Resurrection Rock,—a woman of positive and good tastes.
Draperies hung in a wide doorway opening into a big room at the front. Ethel advanced and looked in and a moment later she entered, with Asa no longer holding her sleeve, but close at her side.
This room, which extended the full width of the house, had windows to the east and south and west and was so large that Ethel could not be certain at a glance that it was unoccupied. The bright, diffused light from the clear dawn flooded the place through the many windows and fell upon a large, heavy, carved table near the center of the room; upon chairs and a couch on one side; upon a grand piano at the east end with a tall lamp and a music cabinet near-by. In the wall to Ethel's left, which was the interior wall, was a large and beautiful fireplace with a high, marble mantel. A small table by one of the south windows displayed an old bronze figure; a larger statue of marble stood upon a graceful pedestal. Bookcases full of books were in the wall on both sides of the mantel; upon the mantelshelf were antiques,—bowls and vases; and above were old rapiers and a steel gauntlet from some ancient suit of mail.
Ethel had made sure now that no one was in the room; and it showed no sign of disorder or of violence done there; yet sight of the room itself amazingly disturbed her. She did not know why, at first; she merely felt frightened as by something uncanny. Asa noticed her excitement and looked inquiringly about the room again before he asked in a whisper:
"Something here you see?"
"No," she said. "It's—Asa, I've been in this room. I've never been in this house before; but I've been in this room!"
"Yes?" Asa inquired, unable to comprehend her.
She walked about the room, and the feeling grew stronger. The wood paneling of the walls between the windows, the window casings and the mantel were all old, she saw,—much older than the house itself. Most of the furniture was old,—the tables, chairs and footrests. These and the bronzes and the marble were not mere copies, in wood and metal and stone, of work of some past period; the materials themselves were old; the handiwork was old.
Ethel was familiar with the American liking for buying "an interior" abroad and transporting and installing it in toto within new walls; and it was plain to her that this room once had been part of a French building. French of the sixteenth or the seventeenth century, French of the periods which one associated with Louis XIV and Henry of Navarre. Ethel's recognition of this partly explained her impression of familiarity here; when she was a child at her aunt's château, aunt Cecilia had taken her on visits to châteaux of many of uncle Hilaire's friends. She might indeed have been in this very room before. It was hopeless for her to try to recall from her memories of when she was five and eight where it was that she had previously visited this salon; moreover, her mind was not now dwelling upon what might have been her own association with this room. What was Barney Loutrelle's? For this remarkable salon was, she knew, the heart of the house; he had been sent from across the water to this room.
She moved nearer the mantel and gazed at the design incised over the fireplace; it bore a dignified, formal device like—yes, very like—the device wrought upon Barney Loutrelle's ring. Certainly his ring, which Azen Mabo had taken with him from Noah Jo, belonged to the epoch and to the station of this room. Such a lady as had first worn that old ring must have entertained in a salon like this.
Recollections of many events were rushing through her mind, connecting themselves with this room. She remembered that several years ago her grandfather had made Wheedon take him through this house and when she asked him what it was like he had refused to tell her,—without reason, it then seemed. Now she knew that there was a definite, compelling reason which he had found when he viewed this room; her grandfather knew the significance of these things on Resurrection Rock; he had known why Barney Loutrelle had been sent here, and he had taken it as a threat to himself which he had met by sending Kincheloe out last night.
She forbade herself further conjectures and began to examine the room more closely for evidence of recent event. There were cold ashes in the fireplace and oil in the lamps which had wicks black from burning. She went through the door in the north wall at the east end and found a large dining room, all modern, with graceful Sheraton furniture which was not older than the year of the building of the house. Next was a kitchen where the ashes of a wood fire lay cold in the stove upon which stood a kettle filled with water, cold but not frozen. All the fires in the house had burnt out so recently that some heat remained. There were a few provisions in the kitchen cupboards, evidently freshly bought; some were leavings from a meal.
Ascending with Asa to the second floor, Ethel found only bedrooms and baths above,—four large bedchambers and three smaller rooms in a suite at the rear for servants. All had modern furniture and fittings. Barney Loutrelle seemed to have occupied—or to have planned to occupy—one of the large rooms; Ethel found brushes and a comb, which evidently were his, upon a dressing stand; the suit case which he had carried was in the closet; it had been unpacked and its contents laid in the dresser drawers. The bed in that room was made up with fresh linen; but it had not been slept in.
Some one had slept in the bed in the first of the servants' rooms in the back of the house; but there were no personal belongings in that room.
"Bagley sleep here, I think," Asa volunteered. "Night before last night."
Ethel asked how he knew, and Asa informed her that he had seen a light in this part of the house upon the night before last and early last evening. "But Bagley leave here last night 'bout nine o'clock. He had enough."
"Enough?" Ethel repeated. "Enough of what?"
"That's all he said; he had 'enough.'" Asa was merely quoting the expression.
"He said that to you? Where did you see him?"
"No; he said that to Wheedon. I did not talk with him, but I saw him at Wheedon's—about nine o'clock. Wheedon said Bagley come to stay there all night; he had 'enough.'"
"Then Mr. Loutrelle went to Wheedon's too, Asa?"
"No; he was not there."
"Where was he?"
"I do not know; here, I suppose," Asa said uneasily. "Somebody had light here late? What do you know?"
She had not told Asa what she knew and what she had supposed, because she had expected that they immediately would discover evidence which would make unnecessary any explanation of her summons to accompany her here. But they had found nothing except that Bagley and Barney Loutrelle both had been in the house and neither was here now.
Asa had accounted for Bagley's absence, but not for Barney's. She asked Asa to go down into the cellar with her to make certain that no one was anywhere in the house; and the unwillingness with which he accompanied her into the dark passages made plain to her what the Indian was thinking. They searched thoroughly, however, before they returned to the salon. No one, living or dead, was in the house; nowhere had they come upon sign of violence or indication of cause for Barney Loutrelle's disappearance.
"Where's he gone, Asa?" Ethel appealed finally.
"How do I know?" the Indian returned irritably, and Ethel appreciated that his nerves were on edge. His dark eyes peered about restlessly; and she knew that, whatever Asa had thought when she brought him to the house, now superstitions controlled him. He was remaining close to her and thinking again, undoubtedly, about Bagley who so recently had left because he had had "enough" and of the stories repeated about Resurrection Rock.
Ethel had thought of some physical means being employed,—a blow struck or a shot fired. But might the danger have been more—extraordinary than that? Asa seemed to think so.
She started, seeing a shadow following her on the western wall of the great room. It was her own shadow; light was streaking across the floor, and cold, dazzling beams were striking in through the low windows to the east as the rim of the sun pushed up from the frozen, motionless lake. East and south, as far as Ethel could see, ice and ice and ice extended; all the world in that direction was frozen, limitless ice, smooth and unbroken. Below the ice lay water, above it only sky and sun. Still elements alone bounded Resurrection Rock which seemed set on the very edge of creation, a threshold from warm, vibrant, pulsing life to the realm of that to which souls from cold bodies flow. White, gleaming, spectral shapes arose far away toward the sun and glided now this way and that, the wind drawing up light snowflakes and wafting them to and fro.
Ethel struck her hands together and with a jerk turned around to look out the opposite windows to the near, forested shore where a curl of smoke above the trees marked Asa Redbird's little home where Mrs. Redbird was, undoubtedly, frying breakfast. Farther away she could see St. Florentin; and she thought, not of the message from her father and of the letter from London, but of her grandfather watching Resurrection Rock through his glass and of Kincheloe's return to her grandfather last night.
She heard scratching at the door and, remembering the dogs, she recalled the brown mat in Lad's hair and how Kincheloe that morning had twice attempted to take the dogs from her.
"Let them in, Asa," she directed.
When the door was opened and the dogs ran in, she thought that they rushed into the salon because she was there; but Lad only brushed against her on his way to the further end of the great room where he thrust his head down and smelled of the floor, whimpering and scrambling about in a circle. Lass blundered about near him so excitedly that Ethel followed to see what was there, only to find a space of bare, varnished floor. But her interest stirred Lad to leap upon her and dash to the door on the south which communicated with the outside steps down the Rock to the summer landing.
When she looked through the glass of this door, Ethel observed for the first time that those steps showed the depressions of deep footsteps, blunted and half filled with the lighter drift which had been blowing about since early morning. The door was locked and bolted but, upon being unfastened, readily opened.
The dogs jumped into the snow and floundered down the steps to the ice where they shook themselves and rolled over, barking. They ran out of sight about the base of the Rock; then they reappeared, barking and so plainly trying to lead that Ethel went down to them.
She found half-filled furrows in the snow which must have been made by the dogs some hours earlier; farther away from the Rock, the ice was smooth and showed no footmarks. She was fearfully expecting that Lad was leading her to the sort of horror which she had believed to be in the house when she came upon chunks of ice standing beside a hole, about a yard in diameter, which had been chopped through to the water.
Young ice had frozen over, not yet half an inch thick. She knelt and leaned forward with her hands on the edge of the hole, peering down through the new, glassy crystal into the dark, deep water underneath. She felt footsteps on the floor of ice and, looking about, she saw that Asa after some delay had descended from the Rock. He came to her side and gazed into the hole.
"Water hole," he said quietly. "Bagley chop it here yesterday to fill buckets. Bagley did not chop it, I think, so big."
"Why did the dogs want us to come out here, Asa?" she demanded, still on her knees.
Redbird stared at her for an instant; and she was aware that the action of the dogs in the house had banished from him the fright of the supernatural which had seized him.
"For drink, maybe," he suggested.
"You think that?"
Asa for answer thrust a foot forward and with his heel broke the young ice. "You drink, Lad? Lass?" he invited.
Lass did not move, and Lad thrust his nose down only to sniff unsatisfactorily, and lift his head again. "They want no drink," Redbird said. "What you think?"
She stood up, but she could not speak to the Indian the words for what she thought. She moved slowly, head inclined and attempting to see through the heavy ice; but nothing but the blackness of water rewarded her. The Rock rose so abruptly from the lake bottom that the water was twenty or thirty feet deep.
"Who chopped that hole bigger, do you suppose, Asa?" she appealed at last of the Indian who had not joined her in her vain walking about, but who was standing, looking away over the ice.
Redbird refused to commit himself.
"Would Mr. Loutrelle have made it larger?" she asked.
"Why?" Asa returned.
"Yes; that's it; why? Why, Asa?" she cried, suddenly losing control of herself. "Why should any one want that hole bigger?"
"Nobody would," Redbird assured positively, "for water."
"No," she said. "No; no; no!" She meant, first, agreement with Asa; then revolt at, and denial of, the images in her own mind. The Indian and she now understood the same events alike; Asa, indeed, had discovered more than she.
"What kept you up there?" she asked him.
He said he would show her; and together they ascended the steps in the Rock. He had blocked the door so it had not latched and locked them out; so now, shutting out the dogs, he led her to the part of the floor where the dogs had been sniffing.
"Somebody washed right here, you see. Somebody did it last night, I think; somebody scrubbed. But no place else."
He fell to one knee, placing his face close to the floor and shutting one eye to glance with the other along the sunlit boards and illustrate his method of discovery of the fact. Ethel knelt and saw that the sunlight glinted on soft dust except in a space, roughly oval and about six feet long, where no dust appeared, but where the bright, hard surface of varnish was scratched and dulled by recent scrubbing and scraping. She pulled off her gloves and with bare finger tips felt the difference in the varnish there and elsewhere.
"Somebody burned cloth in fireplace," Asa informed, going to the hearth and producing a handful of ashes which exhibited the woven texture of cloth; he produced also a charred bit of shaped wood which had been the back of a scrubbing brush. Asa offered it to her and she put out her hand to take it, and then she could not touch it. Blood had stained it before it had been burnt; Kincheloe had put it in the fire to burn away—blood.
Asa had let go of it, thinking that she was taking it, and it dropped to the floor between them. It was to make sure that such trifles as this were completely burnt, she thought, that Kincheloe wished to come to the Rock early this morning. That is the reason her grandfather had sent Kincheloe to the Rock; for she knew that Kincheloe would not have come here this morning of his own accord.
She could think these things; but she could not say them. instead, she argued with herself aloud against them. "What does that mean, Asa?"
"You tell me," the Indian said.
No doubt at all now of what Asa believed; but when he stood waiting upon her, she could not tell him how she had watched her grandfather wandering about his house at midnight and how she had seen Kincheloe come in. But she had to tell Asa something; so she told him about the mat in Lad's hair.
Asa went out and examined the dog.
"Nothing there now," he reported when he returned. "Hair there all cut off."
This brought her to the door to witness for herself that, since her discovery early that morning, some one had clipped the hair close under the dog's jaw. Who had done that? Kincheloe? Or Miss Platt? Or—her grandfather?
Vehemently she denied that last doubt to herself. It could not have been her grandfather who had done that cutting which meant knowledge of and aid in concealing murder; for it had become plain to her that some one had been killed; and it was no less plain to Asa. He had entertained the agency of spirits only when it seemed that Barney Loutrelle had been made away with and no trace left. Now Asa knew that spirits would not have needed to scrub a floor with a brush which had to be burned; spirits would not have required to enlarge a water hole in the lake ice.
"Somebody was killed here, Asa?"
"What else to think?"
"But who—Asa, who?"
"Who was here last night?" Asa returned logically.
She flinched. He meant, of course, her friend of yesterday, Barney Loutrelle. Hopelessly she had been struggling to down that conviction as she had been trying to down the dread that her grandfather could be concerned in crime.
"But who would have done it?" she demanded of Asa.
"Who did not want you to come here this morning?"
"Yes; but why? He could have had no reason."
For a moment the Indian did not reply; he faced her, thinking. "Maybe—" he began.
"Maybe what, Asa?"
"Somebody else have reason."
It was a good deal for Asa Redbird to say; his rôle—the rôle of an Indian remaining in a land owned and occupied by the white—was to keep free of their affairs as much as possible; to serve and observe but, so far as might be, never to interfere. Certainly never to accuse lightly. Ethel fully knew this; and she knew what Asa Redbird meant; more than that, she knew him not simply as an Indian, but as an individual,—a serious, honest man, a devout Catholic, taught in the tradition of the old Jesuits who more than two centuries ago came to Lake Huron to make converts among the Indians. Those Jesuits had made converts among the red men who had borne torture and death at the stake for their faith; and something about Asa Redbird made Ethel think of them now.
"Who—who do you mean, Asa?" she asked directly.
"Where did Merrill Kincheloe come from last night?" Redbird said.
He had made the accusation direct; and, looking at him, Ethel knew that Asa had formed his opinion, not alone from evidences which he had discovered this morning, but from previously held thoughts in regard to her grandfather. Asa had been willing to accuse him because, from among the few in the neighborhood who might have directed the doing of this thing, Asa could think of only Lucas Cullen; and the red man had observed the white, whom he had served without expressing any opinion, for twenty years.
It made her flinch again; yet with the wince traveled a feeling of respect for this poor man who had accused to the granddaughter the rich man who most absolutely controlled his fate and that of his little family in the shack in the woods; and she thought of Asa now as holding to his charge, under question, as resolutely as would Father Laurent, who visited the little chapels in the woods, or as good Father Benitot of St. Ignace.
She said nothing more about her grandfather or about Kincheloe; she merely arranged with Asa that he was to stay here in the house, or at least upon Resurrection Rock, until she returned or sent some one to relieve him. She was going to St. Florentin, and Asa was to see that no one entered to disturb anything in the house or to alter the hole in the ice; he was to keep watch against Kincheloe particularly.
Asa did not like staying there alone; but he agreed to do it, keeping the dogs with him. He came outdoors when she left and, when she looked back several minutes later, she saw him standing before the house; she waved to him, and he raised an arm in reply. Then she thought about him no more.