Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 7
CHAPTER VIILUCAS' TRICK
THE tumult in Ethel's soul swept about her grandfather and about Barney Loutrelle. She could see her grandfather again as first she saw him yesterday, hiding behind a tree, watching her friend start off toward the Rock.
"Ah, j'y étais mousquetaire!"
She seemed to hear the echo as Barney Loutrelle went off singing,—his warm voice full with the joy and goodness of living. He had been singing to himself because he was happy and stirred, and he had been still singing, perhaps, when he had passed out over this stretch of ice. And where was he now? Chill barbs of terror thrust within her; she seemed, strangely, to see his hands which yesterday she had liked to watch while he held them before their fire in the cabin; but now she saw them clenched and cold against the sand of the lake bottom. Her thoughts played horrible tricks against her attempts not to imagine him. Where was his ring, she wondered. Had they—the merciless, impersonal "they" whom she pictured as doing what had been done—had they taken away his ring or left it in his pocket? His mother's ring, so he had thought, which went so marvelously with that extraordinary old room restored on Resurrection Rock.
"There is one here, Philip Carew, who would speak to you!"
Her thoughts flew, in their frantic circle, to the letter from London which had told Barney Loutrelle about her father and about the Rock and about her coming here and about that Bagley, never seen here before, who had come and—having had "enough"—had left. Enough of what?
She could guess; he was probably ignorant and superstitious and readily affected by the stories about Resurrection Rock. She would not permit herself again to become confused by superstitions, though all this did seem to have started with a message from her father, who was dead.
Her grandfather, who was living and very material, had long been afraid of that Rock; but not so much when the house remained empty as when Barney Loutrelle and Bagley went there. Her grandfather had endeavored to prevent the occupation of the house and, failing, had sent out Merrill Kincheloe and waited with loaded rifle as she had seen, until Kincheloe's late return.
But did she know that her grandfather had sent Kincheloe to do what he had done? Was she to believe that her grandfather even knew truly what Kincheloe did? No; he couldn't know; Kincheloe could not have confessed the whole fact to him. That must be the explanation!
This thought sent a leap in her pulses which made her almost happy for the instant before she realized that, however it might be, yet Barney Loutrelle was dead. Kincheloe, desiring money, thinking only in terms of money—much money, in these days—had done it; but her grandfather still might be innocent.
She remembered that she had read in some of those defenses of him, which had been published in reply to the muckraking attacks, that sometimes Lucas Cullen had suffered through the overzealousness of weak underlings who had misunderstood his purposes and done things for which he unjustly was blamed, Kincheloe was a weak underling, capable of complete misconceptions or of criminal bunglings of a commission. Ethel did not argue herself out of belief that her grandfather had instigated Kincheloe to take some action against Barney Loutrelle,—to frighten him off, perhaps, as Bagley seemed to have been frightened.
She regained the shore and put on her skis. The woods were empty and silent. Approaching St. Florentin, everything seemed as usual on a winter morning. At some distance she could hear the exhaust of the gasoline engine pumping water and charging the batteries for the day; she could hear an axe at leisurely intervals, and she knew that Sam Green Sky was comfortably employed in the wood-shed.
She had kept a lookout for Kincheloe while proceeding through the woods and, coming in sight of the road to Quesnel, she glanced down it to see if he might be making off. She thought that probably he had escaped from the neighborhood by this time, and she was considering ways of having him overtaken when the front door of her grandfather's house opened and Kincheloe appeared upon the porch. The sight startled her, particularly as he seemed undisturbed, and as he stood, without cap or coat, watching her approach. He returned into the house in a moment, leaving the door slightly open, so that she went in at once and met her grandfather coming down the hall from his office.
"Well," he hailed her. "Well; you're back from your little sunrise expedition, Kincheloe tells me. Well; well; tell me all about it."
"Grandfather!" she cried, breathless from her excitement and from hurrying. "He was just here. I saw him!" She looked about, but Kincheloe was out of sight now. "He mustn't go away; he—"
"What's the trouble with you?" her grandfather demanded, seizing her arm. "Step in here and explain what's come over you."
He used just enough force to overcome her physical opposition. She did not struggle violently, as his grasp warned her that if she exerted more strength, he would also employ more and overpower her. Besides, he was her grandfather, and he had played with her and carried her about on his back when she was a child; he had petted her and liked to hold her in his arms, producing from his pockets pretty, extravagant trifles; he was the one who used to talk most to her about her mother and tell her what her mother had done when she was a child.
He was angry with her for what she had done in the night and for having gone out early this morning; but he was big and firm-handed and so much as usual, with the faint, familiar odor of shaving soap as always just after he had shaved in the morning, that she cried out confidently: "Grandfather, you don't know what he's done!"
"Who?" he demanded, his grip tightening in an unconscious muscular spasm. He guided her into the front room and closed the door.
"What? Miss Platt's husband?" he repeated his old phrase with slow deliberateness. "Miss Platt's husband?"
He consciously tried to mention Kincheloe with his customary, slighting contempt; but he did not succeed. When he had spoken quickly in the hall, he had referred to Miss Platt's husband as Kincheloe, and this was the first time he had ever done so to Ethel's knowledge; and his tone, when he had said the name suddenly, also had betrayed the effect of an occurrence which had changed the relation of Miss Platt's husband to him since last night.
"Well; well," he demanded. "What's he done that I don't know? Tell me all about it," he invited.
He let go of her arm and stood back, studying her and taking up his position between her and the door; and he scrutinized her, not as Ethel, his granddaughter, but as a girl who bore a danger to him yet indefinite; so she saw him not as her grandfather, but as a huge, old man with strong hands and relentless jaw and with squinting, warmthless eyes who wanted to make her talk. "Tell me all about it," he invited again. "I want to know all about it."
But she faced him silently, not conscious of what processes were controlling her, until she found herself shaking in a spasm of revulsion from him. Perhaps it was his voice or his manner, imitating his invitation of yesterday when he had made her detail to him the affairs which he already knew and pretended that he did not; with this came cumulated recollections of acts for which responsible men had accused him; there came to her, too, Asa Redbird's recent charge. Altogether she suddenly knew that she had nothing to tell her grandfather, and that he knew all that she did and far more. He knew not only what had been done last night at the Rock but why it had been done and everything else about it. He was concerned in making her talk only to learn what she knew and what disturbance she threatened to him.
"You know about it; all; all!" she cried aloud. "Oh, grandfather!" And she shrank back before him under her share of the horror and guilt of what had been done.
This gave him a twinge; he was not prepared for her taking it that way. Whatever he had planned to say to her since the hour in the night when she had followed him to the attic and he had driven her downstairs, he now was caught for a moment at a loss. But he quickly restored himself.
"You just say I don't know what he's done—Miss Platt's husband—and now I know about it—all—all!" he mocked the despair of her cry. Suppose you speak to me calmly and plain, if you can. What's all exciting you so much, and what did you go out to the Rock for before sunrise?"
"To see what Kincheloe—what you had Kincheloe do."
"Oh, I had Kincheloe do something out there, did I?"
She could not answer him for the suffocation in her breast; muscles seemed to be tugging tight all through her; she felt so stiff that it was as though she could not move and if she lost her balance, as she swayed, she must topple over.
"Well, what did you see?" her grandfather demanded of her.
"That he was not there, grandfather!"
"Who?" he demanded loudly.
"Oh! Oh! He wasn't? Well, why wasn't he? What's happened to him? Is that what's stirred you up so? What's happened to him?"
"He'd been made away with!"
"Hey? Killed, you mean?"
"Yes; killed; killed."
"Hey? You saw him dead?"
"But what?" he advanced upon her, leaning over her when she did not respond. "What did you see?"
And she knew that he needed answer to that; for, though he knew what had been done, he could not know—except from Kincheloe's own report—how well or how badly Kincheloe had done and what evidence of the deed Kincheloe might have left.
So she stepped away when her grandfather advanced and, defying him, she refused reply; and so, for a moment, she saw fear—fear such as that which she had surprised upon him in the night—alter his eyes; then his fear was gone as her refusal to answer him persisted and he became convinced that she had seen little, after all.
"Have you enough shame left to realize what you have just been saying to me?" he assailed her, raising his hand clenched but for his huge forefinger with which he threatened her. "Kincheloe has killed your fine friend of the train, Barney Loutrelle, you said. I had him do it! Eh? Eh? Say to me, do you mean that? Miss Platt's husband—and I—have 'made away with' Barney Loutrelle?"
"Stop your grandfathering me! Answer plain what you mean. If you don't mean that, say what you do!"
He shook his finger so close to her face that he struck her forehead and nose. She put up a hand and caught his wrist and tried to thrust his hand aside; but his arm was tense, and she could not. "Do you mean that?" he demanded, striking her face again with his finger.
"Eh? So Kincheloe—and I had him do it—killed your Barney Loutrelle, you believe?"
He jerked his wrist out of her grasp and stepped back, looking down at her and laughing. Somehow she had immensely gratified him; she could not imagine by what perversion the fact could be but by accusing Kincheloe—and him—of making away with Barney Loutrelle, she had done just what her grandfather had desired.
He continued to laugh at her, and he laughed as she had never heard him, or any one else, laugh before. There was no amusement in his laugh; relief was there mingled with something else; but only the relief was recognizable.
"I must have Miss Platt hear you," he said, when he was through laughing. "And your grandmother." He stepped to the door and, opening it, called first for Miss Platt and then for his wife. Miss Platt appeared quickly, coming in with the impersonal, observant interest with which she replied to summons to take dictation. It seemed to Ethel, when she heard her grandmother descending the stairs, that her grandfather's wife was obeying him reluctantly; but she was obeying, as she always obeyed. When she entered the room, her eyes by habit sought his and found their instruction. She looked at her granddaughter, and Ethel felt that she wanted to warn her of something but could not.
"Now we will all hear your opinions," her grandfather said; and, before the others, he made her accuse Kincheloe and himself again. Then he went once more to the door.
"Lieutenant Loutrelle!" he called. "Mr. Barney Loutrelle, will you step in here!"
Ethel heard him making the summons as to some one who was alive; she heard a reply,—a voice which might be Barney Loutrelle's and a step in the hallway. Her grandfather spoke again, and the voice which again answered made her shut her eyes for dizziness. It brought back the echo of the song which, heard yesterday, had been resounding within her: "Ah! J'y étais mousquetaire!"
He was not dead! She opened her eyes to see him in the doorway; he entered and came toward her, speaking to her. Everything wavered about him; but he did not waver in her sight. She cried out—or whispered—something in reply to the words he was saying. She knew neither what she said nor how she said it.
Her grandfather was grabbing at her, saying something; and Miss Platt was addressing her; but Ethel heeded neither of them. She recognized that they were demanding, in their different ways, that she apologize and demean herself and ask forgiveness of them, and of Kincheloe, and of God, for her reckless accusations. But she could not think about them; besides, nothing about them had changed. Barney Loutrelle was alive; yet—yet everything else was the same. They had done what they had done; but not to her friend.
"I thought you were dead!" she was explaining to him. "You see, I thought they had killed you."
She had to touch him, so overpowering had been the terrors in which she imagined him dead; and when she did it, wholly regardless of the others, and when she found him warm and strong, he clasped her hand and held it, his pulses throbbing with hers. For though he could not comprehend what had happened, yet he was feeling only for her and with her; he had appreciated that somehow these others—her people—had been playing with her and tricking her, and that they had used him in their trick to take an advantage over her. He realized that, in doing this for themselves, they cruelly had won him an advantage of another sort over her, and he would not let her show this advantage without showing that she held similar advantage over him.
"I came to find you as early as I dared," he told her. "I came here just to see you. They told me you would be down soon. I had no idea you had gone out."
"I went to the Rock for you. You see, I thought they had hurt you and—"
Her grandfather interrupted them loudly; he ordered her to go at once to her room; but she disregarded him. A few minutes ago she stood against him when she felt herself solitary in her combat with him; then she had been willing alone to defy him for herself and for her father, who was dead, and for her new friend who had come to her from her father and whom—she had believed—they had killed. Now she had regained him; his strength and thought and will joined with hers again for the encounter which they would take up together. She, at least, much more fully comprehended the nature of what confronted them; for it was plain that they—Barney and she—in some way yet unknown to either of them, involved her grandfather and Kincheloe in undertakings which stopped at nothing. It was not Barney Loutrelle who had lain, bleeding, on the floor of that grand old salon in the new house on Resurrection Rock; but some one last night had expired there and been carried out to the lake.
But Barney knew nothing of that yet; her explanation of her fears for him meant nothing except that she had been alarmed about him and had tried to aid him.
"Leave her alone!" he said. "Leave her alone!" he repeated, putting himself between her and her grandfather. "She has something to say to me; and I have much to tell her. I came to see her. You can give us this room, or we will go out; won't we, Miss Carew?" he asked her.
"Yes," she said. "Yes."
"What?" her grandfather threatened. "What? You think you will go with this—this—" he stopped with a snort of contempt. But he was not feeling contempt, Ethel saw as she watched him. He had won this morning over Barney Loutrelle; for Barney had not known even that any one had been killed at the Rock. Her grandfather had won over her; for he had found out that she had so little idea as to who was dead that she thought it was Barney, and he had succeeded in making her ridiculous when she accused him. But now fear was returning to him; he feared to permit her, knowing what she knew, to go with Barney.
For a moment he seemed to consider laying hands on her and by physical force constraining her from going out; but now he recognized that Barney would meet him by strength greater than his own; so he threatened her instead.
"I can forgive your imbecility and madness. God helping me, I can forgive my child's child even what she has said to me this day. But disobey me again, and I shall never forgive you. Obedience in my own house and from my children dependent upon me, I shall have. So step over the threshold of that door in disobedience to me, and you shall never come into my house again. Now go; go to your room and go to your knees, and later, when you are yourself, I shall send for you."
The very vibration of his rasping, powerful voice seemed to shake her; his words took impact like blows of his finger which had struck her face. Even if she were cool, she could not at one moment comprehend consequences of the decision which then and there she had to make; she knew that already she had made it, so she gazed only an instant longer at her grandfather before looking up at the friend at her side.
"I am ready to go with you," she said.