CHAPTER VIIIA COMPACT
SHE crossed the threshold, which her grandfather had forbidden her, and went to the front door. Barney Loutrelle did not accompany her but stayed behind, keeping between her and her grandfather; but the old man offered no interference of any sort. Indeed, he turned away, after she had definitely disobeyed him, and seemed to pay no more heed to her or to Barney.
"My cap and coat," she heard Barney say to some one. "I gave them to Mr. Cullen."
"I will find them," Miss Platt said crisply, and she brought the garments to him in the hall. Ethel still was clothed as she had been when she had gone out before, so she opened the door and stepped on to the porch; Barney followed and closed the door behind them. She understood, when she looked at him, that his delay had been not solely to guard her against force from her grandfather; Barney had wished to avoid leading, or urging her, to the decision she had made. She referred to that decision now, saying:
"I'm glad. Where shall we go?"
He glanced down the road toward the buildings of the old St. Florentin village. "There are plenty of roofs."
"Yes," she said, and she jerked about excitedly as she heard some one at the door. It opened, and her grandmother came out into the cold without wrap or shawl. She laid a slender, trembling hand upon Ethel, and her old eyes besought her granddaughter with piteous pleadings.
"Debsie," she said, calling Ethel again by her mother's name. "My little Deborah's daughter, don't set yourself against your father once more."
Ethel was familiar with the habit by which, under emotion, her grandmother might confuse in the same sentence herself and her mother. Her grandmother was begging her not to set herself against her grandfather as her mother had done. Ethel had not known that her mother had set herself against her grandfather; she had always believed that her father had undertaken the quarrel.
"It may not be too late yet," her grandmother continued to plead. "Come back into the house with me, and I will try what I can do with him."
"I don't want you to," Ethel said; then her voice broke. "Oh, grandmother!" She put her arms about the slight, straight little old lady and kissed her passionately. "Good-by, grandmother."
"There; there," the old lady said, patting her. Her own eyes were brimming, but she made no further effort to beg Ethel to remain. Instead she spoke only of her husband.
"Your grandfather was a great man, Ethel," she said proudly. "It is so easy for young folks, who know things only as they are, to judge hard what was done in the old days. You think of wood as valuable; but in my day, when I was a girl in the forest below here on the other side, the great, tall trees were just obstructions; my father and his neighbors would slash them, burn them or do anything to clear the ground of them; then your grandfather and other young men came and turned the wood into gold and people said—people said—"
She stopped with a hiccough. "No one, Debsie, can ever go through life without doing wrongs to somebody, do you think? And if a great man does great things, are only the ordinary little wrongs of the tiny to be forgiven him?"
A tear fell from her eye, and she turned to the door which her husband had reopened.
"Come in, Sarah," he bade, and she obeyed.
Ethel felt queerly hollow as she went down the steps with Barney Loutrelle. Her grandmother did not know what had been done just last night, she assured herself, when she weakened. Her grandmother was thinking of that something—greater than a little wrong—which she admitted had been done long ago and which had brought about the break with Ethel's mother; now there was something more. This seemed to be a consequence of the other wrong which had arisen out of conditions long ago in the vanished forests of the tall trees; somehow it had taken in Resurrection Rock with its old French salon in the newly built house and Barney Loutrelle and his ring and the person—yet unknown—who had gone to the Rock last night and been killed.
Ethel was walking, side by side with Barney, in the wide ruts which the wood sled had made in the snow; they were both without skis for, without further discussion, they understood that they were to stop for conference in the first suitable building of the deserted village; so when the old store offered its sound roof and walls and windows, they entered. The floor was covered with light drift snow, and Ethel put her hand upon the gray, cracked counter; Barney caught her elbow and gave her a lift up on the counter, where she sat while he stood in the snow nearer the window and looked back toward her grandfather's house. No one had followed them; no one appeared to be taking any further interest in them.
"You saw Kincheloe this morning?" Ethel asked.
"I heard some one speak to him; he was in the house, but I did not see him," Barney said.
"He would keep out of sight now," she said and, as briefly as possible, she told Barney what followed her arrival at St. Florentin and of her grandfather's attempt to bribe her to tell about him, of Kincheloe's absence during the afternoon and evening and of the peculiar events of the night; she told of her visit to the Rock with Asa Redbird and their discoveries; and she received in return full report from Barney.
He had stopped at Wheedon's in the afternoon, as Ethel had supposed, and there had learned that the man named Bagley, who had never been seen in the neighborhood before, had arrived a day earlier and exhibited a letter from Marcellus Clarke which authorized him to obtain the keys to the house on Resurrection Rock. Wheedon had furnished him with the keys and, at Bagley's request, Wheedon and his wife had accompanied Bagley to the Rock where they had opened the house. The Wheedons then had returned, apparently after filling Bagley with the neighborhood gossip and superstition about Resurrection Rock.
Bagley stayed at the house, having brought a supply of food; he built fires and had everything ready when Barney arrived. He proved to be a steward sort of person—a man about forty-five, accustomed to obey orders without inquiring into reasons. He did things for Mr. Clarke whom Bagley knew as an attorney concerned with confidential matters for many important people. Bagley claimed to have no idea who owned the house or why he, himself, had been sent there; he had never heard of the house until he received the letter from Mr. Clarke, who was just then abroad, instructing him to go to Mr. Wheedon's, obtain the keys, open the house and there await a young officer, who was described in the letter, who might arrive shortly after the first of the year and who would give the name Barney Loutrelle. Bagley then was to "look after" Lieutenant Loutrelle's wants until further directions rived.
Bagley had shown Barney the letter; and though Bagley disclaimed further knowledge of the affair, Barney had the impression that Bagley either was concealing some additional knowledge or that something had happened after Bagley's arrival at the Rock which he would not report. Barney tried to see if giving the name "Dick"—as he had been told to do in Adley's letter—would serve any purpose; but it meant nothing to Bagley who seemed to have no idea of "giving things over" to "Dick." Indeed, this experiment only increased Bagley's disturbance about the whole business. However, Bagley served a good supper, and afterwards Barney tried to read in the big salon; but soon he put out the lamps to better watch the lights at St. Florentin.
He went out and wandered about the Rock while Bagley was still clearing up in the dining room and kitchen. Barney came indoors and was trying again to read when he heard a shot in the direction of the shore and, going to the door, he thought he also heard cries. He went ashore and wandered about for nearly an hour before returning to find the Rock dark and the house shut. After trying to arouse Bagley, he went ashore once more to find that Bagley already had arrived at Wheedon's and was determined to remain there.
He had had "enough" he explained to Barney as he previously had informed Wheedon; that was the extent of the explanation he made. He had brought the keys to Wheedon, and he was going home to Chicago on the earliest train passing in the morning. If Mr. Loutrelle wished, perhaps Wheedon would take him to the Rock to-morrow and let him take out his things; Bagley was "through."
Under the circumstances, Barney saw nothing better to do than also stay at Wheedon's for the night. He thought he saw lights on the Rock after midnight, and so reported to Wheedon, who replied, "Yes, one often saw lights on the Rock, but nobody would be there."
Barney went to sleep but got up early to see Bagley; Barney even went part of the way to the railroad with Bagley, endeavoring to make the man admit what had happened to frighten him off; but Barney got no satisfaction and no further information of any sort. When he figured that the people at St. Florentin would be up, he turned back and called there, asking for Ethel; her grandfather admitted him and took him to the office where he entertained him.
Ethel had ceased to feel excitement; too great agitation this morning had confused and betrayed her; she could see plainly now the mistake she had made.
"I thought all the time that Bagley must be the person you were to meet at the Rock," she said.
"No," Barney said. "If you saw him, you couldn't think of him as a principal at all."
"When Asa told me that Bagley was at Wheedon's—and he didn't know about your going there—"
"I hadn't come there when Asa stopped in."
"No; so, not knowing of anybody else at the Rock, I thought they had killed you. But of course it was some one who arrived at the Rock after Bagley had shut you out and you had followed him to Wheedon's."
"Yes; I think that's pretty clear," Barney agreed. "But who was he?"
"Do you suppose Bagley knows? I mean, do you think Bagley knew that some one else was coming to the Rock last night?"
"Perhaps," Barney considered doubtfully. "It's possible, but when I think over the way Bagley acted, I don't believe it's probable; that is, Bagley is the sort of man who's square to the fellow who pays him; and if he knew that Clarke or some one from Clarke was due at the Rock last night, Bagley would have stuck it out for a few hours longer. I picked him for plain scared, Miss Carew, at the idea of waiting at the Rock with me for something to happen which he didn't know anything about."
"You think that the man who came was Clarke?"
"No; because Bagley was too certain Clarke was still in Europe, and if Clarke was here, he would have taken Bagley more into his confidence."
"Then you think the person who came wasn't even connected with Clarke?"
"Certainly it wouldn't seem so."
"My grandfather knows, of course," Ethel said with amazing, unreal recollection that she was sitting there with a young man, almost a stranger to her, trying to figure out the facts of a crime which her grandfather knew all about. "That telegram from my uncle Lucas in Chicago, which Asa brought when we were at dinner, probably told about the man. But if he came from Chicago, he was before us; we know no one got off our train but ourselves, and there was no other train from Chicago yesterday. So he would have been about here when we arrived. But there was no stranger about or we'd have heard of it from Sam or Asa or somebody, as we heard about Bagley."
"There was the fellow who slept in the snow in the shack opposite the cabin where we had tea."
"Yes," Ethel said. "And I think my grandfather knew he was about yesterday afternoon. You see, grandfather was disturbed and expecting something yesterday when he called me up at the cabin before he knew you'd come and were going to the Rock. When Sam told us about Bagley, I thought that accounted for grandfather's interest. But I am sure now it was the other man being about. I think Kincheloe was out in the afternoon looking up that man, and I think—I think," she hazarded with the certainty of one of those lucid instants when in the mind a number of confused incidents become clear, "that the telegram from my uncle told my grandfather not so much that the man was here, but who he was and what his presence meant. You see, after that we had prayers and grandfather sent Kincheloe out again, and grandfather waited in his house with his rifle loaded. He wasn't sure whether Kincheloe, or the other man, was coming back from the Rock to his house."
She slid down from the counter upon which she had been sitting. "What are we in, you and I?" she asked, suddenly shivering.
He put his hands steadingly upon her arm. "I got you into it," he accused himself. "You know I'd no idea what it would do to you, or I'd turned back yesterday."
His hold warmed her; she liked him for that grasp, neither too firm nor too weak, nor claiming any unpleasant proprietorship in her because she had gone from her grandfather's house with him. While they had been talking, she knew now that he had been thinking throughout more about the effect of these events upon her than upon himself.
He took his hand from her as soon as she ceased quivering and, turning about to the gray glass of the old store window, he observed, as she had been seeing, that some one was bringing out the sled and team which Sam Green Sky yesterday had driven and was pulling up before her grandfather's house. It appeared to be Sam who was in the seat; he got down and went into the house to reappear quickly, carrying a suit case which he placed on the sled; a woman followed.
"Who's leaving the house?" Barney inquired.
"Mrs. Kincheloe," Ethel said, recognizing Miss Platt's brown muskrat coat. "But I don't think she is going away. I believe that's my suit case which Sam carried. She's bringing it to me; you see, grandfather is sending me off."
She realized that she ought to feel cut off and alone; but she did not. Indeed, she had never felt less lonely in all her life. Up to this moment—it seemed—she had been solitary. When she had had her father, even so long ago as the days on the old ranch when she first inquired of her father why she never saw her mother's people, she had been separated from others by some secret which she was not to be told. The fact that her father knew the secret and would not tell her was in itself something which shut her out from him. No one ever had been in the same situation as she, in regard to that unknown, all-controlling circumstance, until she met this stranger who had come to her with her father's name, seeking St. Florentin and Resurrection Rock. She could not yet even guess how it might be that he—that little white boy living with the Indians back from the Charlevoix road—had been caught by events which also had ensnared her on the Powder River ranch; it was plain only that they had been caught together.
"You must go, of course," he said; and the sudden dismay which came when he recognized the moment of separation sent a warm, exulting thrill through her. They had come so close together that, wonderfully, they both had been assuming that they were to continue in association; but of course they could not.
"I don't mean I'd have you stay," he said hastily, conscious of the reluctance he had betrayed. "You've done altogether too much for me."
"Not for you!" she denied. "I'd like to do things for you; but I can't have you think you're in debt to me for what I've tried to do. And you're not to feel you got me into this; you—you just came to help me, I feel, in something I was to have to do alone, if you hadn't come."
"The fact is," he rejoined, "that if I hadn't taken it into my head to intrude into affairs up here, you'd be just as usual at your grandfather's house now, with no trouble; or else you'd be on your way back to Wyoming with the money you came for."
"Who put it into your head to intrude? And do you think I'd want his money now if he offered it?—About going; I think I'm glad he's sending me away," she decided. "It's saving me explanations. You see, I ought to be going this morning; one of us should be in Chicago right now."
She repeated "one of us" again unconsciously, including him with her in the way they both were thinking but which neither had yet quite confessed. She would not have planned to phrase it so; but now that she had, she would not alter it. "We know that Kincheloe—and my grandfather—had somebody killed. But who? We don't know; and I think we'll not find out up here. We can't prove even that any one came to the Rock after you left last night. And if we could, we couldn't show any reason why Kincheloe and my grandfather should make away with him. We know there is a reason, but what—what is it, do you suppose?" she appealed to Barney, her emotions for a moment overcoming her attempt to reason. "What has my grandfather against you and me? Who was it that he dare not let you meet? What—oh, what did my father want to say to you?"
Again that morning had her words, forcing themselves out, told her what she had not yet admitted to herself. Yesterday, and last night, she had refused to accept the substance of that letter from London as an actual experience to be seriously held; but this morning her ideas were deepening.
"I think there's surely something to be found out in Chicago," Barney said. "Bagley's back there; and Marcellus Clarke has his office there."
"And my uncle Lucas is there—or he sent that telegram last night warning grandfather. But of course, he'll be with grandfather; I'll learn nothing from him, if he can help it."
"He's the uncle at whose house you stayed before coming up here?"
"And now you're going back there?"
"Hardly," she said. "Hardly—even if he'd have me."
Barney nodded. "I thought so; I've set you against all your own people, haven't I?"
He was concerned solely with her as he stood gazing at her; but she was finding herself thinking not of her own affairs at all, but wholly of him for the moment. The expression had returned to his eyes which again let her picture him as the thoughtful little boy,—the good-looking, straight-standing boy with the pleasant, wondering gray eyes looking up at the Indian who was telling him puzzling things about himself and showing him the ring—the ring which accorded so remarkably with the salon in the house on the Rock—which Azen Mabo had received with Barney from the Nomad Indian hunter and fisherman, Noah Jo.
"Did you notice the device carved on the mantel in the big room on Resurrection Rock?" she asked Barney suddenly, destroying his thoughts.
"It reminded me of your ring. Look at it when you go out there."
She saw him start and his hand automatically, at mention of the ring, had gone to his pocket. She saw his fingers feel for the ring as innumerable times before they must have done; and her witnessing of this simple, unconscious habit by which he was accustomed to assure himself that he still held safe his sole chance of connection with his own people sent a pang through her.
"My people," she started to reply to his earlier question, when the sled from her grandfather's house drew up before the store building. Sam Green Sky, cheerful and chewing, was driving, and Miss Platt was observantly erect beside Ethel's suit case. Sam stopped the horses, and as Miss Platt prepared to get down, Barney asked Ethel:
"What do you want me to tell her?"
"I'll be with her in a minute; let her drive on a little and wait."
When he went out, Ethel wondered if she would have succeeded in making Miss Platt obey these directions; Barney did succeed, quickly and without evident difficulty.
"She asked me to inform you that she had carefully packed all your clothing and other articles," Barney reported, smiling slightly when he returned. "Since you have defied his authority, your grandfather does not require you to return to his house; but as he is responsible for you while here, Mrs. Kincheloe will see you safely aboard the train."
"He doesn't want me to see him again," Ethel said, "or Kincheloe. About my people," she reverted, "they've never been my people—except grandmother. The rest of them—grandfather and my uncles—only pretended to be mine when my father was alive. I've told you my father never had anything to do with them, and you heard grandmother say that my mother broke with grandfather."
"I was thinking a good deal about my mother and my father last night, Mr. Loutrelle. It seems—it seems," she repeated, "that last November, and then a few weeks later, my father tried to send you some message. Why was that, do you suppose? I mean, why didn't he try to send it to me?"
"Were you trying to get a message from him?"
"No; I never thought of it. What's that to do with it?"
"Everything, they say."
"Oh, people like the Adleys who think they know about such matters. You understand, I don't claim to know much myself; but I've often heard them discussing methods of communication with those on 'the other side of the veil.'"
"That's what they call—heaven?"
"Frequently. On that other side—they say—are any number of people, who recently were here and are mightily concerned about us who still are here, and who want to communicate with some of us but can't, because not enough of us do what is necessary to give them a chance."
Ethel quivered. "You think that my father might be one of those, and he perhaps wanted very much to say something to me and could not because I didn't try to reach him?"
"I think," Barney replied, "that the Adleys would say so."
"Then perhaps," Ethel considered out loud, "perhaps he talked to you—or tried to—because you were the only person who was trying to communicate through the veil who would soon see me."
"I thought of something like that myself last night, Miss Carew."
"But how did he know that we were to meet? How?" She drew her shoulders up quickly and walked in the snow upon the floor. "All my life I've known that my father was hiding something he held against my mother's family; and I've known that having to hide it and not to act was terribly, terribly hard for him. I never knew till an hour ago that my mother was against the others, too. Knowing that, I think that if my mother had lived, she and father would have come to the issue with grandfather, but since she died, father could not. He loved her so and perhaps for my sake he decided he couldn't take action. I wonder if, after he was dead and perhaps saw mother, he learned that she wished justice—justice, whatever that may be—to be done; I wonder if that was what father was trying to tell you for me?"
She stopped walking and stood at the gray window, gazing vacantly at her grandfather's huge house beyond the edge of the deserted village.
"The other side of the veil," she repeated. "I've heard that before, but I never thought much about it. A veil—only a veil, they say, between here and where my father is? Do you believe that, Mr. Loutrelle?—In that case," she went on, not waiting when he did not immediately answer, "he would know the situation here and what should be done and who would be affected much more definitely than I'd supposed; and he would . . ." She turned about to Barney and checked herself from continuing this speculation. "At any rate, I shall find out what I can about this business and face the consequences. For that reason, I'll not see my grandmother again. I'd like to but maybe, if I saw her, I couldn't go through with this as I must. I'll let him pack me off with Miss Platt. That's best."
She glanced down the road a hundred paces where Miss Platt, with stiff impatience, was sitting waiting on the sled. Ethel knew that Barney would escort her to the sled, but this was her last moment alone with him; and he, also recognizing it, asked:
"Where are you going in Chicago? To be particular, how are you planning to live? You've let me know your present circumstances; and now you'll not be going to your uncle's."
"No; but there are any number of places for a girl in Chicago."
"How much?" he demanded unequivocally.
"With me about thirty-five dollars."
"That'll take you to Chicago."
"And more, too. I've my return mileage."
"That's good; now beyond the thirty-five dollars, have you more in a bank?"
"No," she confessed, flushing a little.
"I've about a hundred and twenty dollars," he informed her, putting a hand in a pocket. "Will you take a hundred?"
"No," she said uncomfortably. "Of course not."
"I can't take money from"—she halted.
"Me? Then there's some one else you prefer to have—"
"No," she denied quickly. "No. I've friends, of course; but I can look out for myself, surely."
"Have you ever supported yourself?"
"I've always made my living, and besides I'm the one to carry the expenses of our"—he hesitated over describing their compact and then said—"investigations."
"But I don't need money now."
He refrained from overurging and withdrew his hand from his pocket. "You'll let me know, by wire, where you'll stop?"
"Yes," she promised.
"Likely enough I'll follow to Chicago before long; for either I'll find out something soon, or I'll know there's nothing more to be had here."
"How'll I address you?" she asked.
"Just care of Quesnel; I'll keep in touch with the telegraph station and the mail."
"Where'll you stay?"
He considered. "I don't know. Maybe at Wheedon's; perhaps at the Rock. I'll go there right away, of course. I may decide to stay. What do you know about Wheedon?"
"Not much more than you can judge. Marcellus Clarke paid him for what he did; it's possible, if grandfather wanted something different done, he might pay more."
"And Wheedon would do it?"
"He'd do—or omit doing—small things, I think."
"I believe I can make out Redbird; he's enough like Azen Mabo; if he believes that we're right, we can count on him."
"He believes," Ethel said, "that some one was killed at the Rock last night and that my grandfather was at the bottom of it."
They had completed the telling to each other of what each ought to know; but she had not suspected how unwilling she was to abandon her new friend whom she had regained this morning as from the dead. She did not fear that she was leaving him in danger of his life; she was conscious that whatever was the purpose which yesterday had controlled her grandfather, it had been accomplished,—for the time, at least. Barney might encounter danger in pursuing the event of last night; but now he fully understood its source and nature and would be prepared.
She gave him her hand in good-by and, when he took it, the clasp surprised both of them with its restoration of the passion of the moment when she had gone to him and put her hand upon him before her grandfather.
"I'd like to feel that you do not ask me to forget that," he said, not describing it, so wholly was it in their pulses. "Do you?"
"No," she said, scarcely audibly; and then firmly, "No."
"I can't stay here unless I'll know where you'll be and how you're doing, Miss Carew," he said, releasing her. "So even if you have nothing particular to report, you'll let me know about yourself."
"Yes," she promised, "if you do the same."
"I will." He opened the door and, escorting her to the sled, gave her over to Miss Platt's keeping. Sam chirruped up his horses.
"Not so cold as yesterday," Miss Platt offered impersonal conversation.
"Not nearly," Ethel agreed.
"Had you breakfast anywhere? Mr. Cullen feared not; so he had a basket packed for you. Would you like something now?"
"I'll take it for later on," Ethel said.
What a marvellous woman was Miss Platt, Ethel thought. Last night her husband had killed some one; and outwardly Miss Platt was as unruffled as ever, as meticulous about the details of her attire and the arrangement of her lusterless hair. Miss Platt undoubtedly had eaten precisely her usual breakfast that morning. Ethel was sure that Miss Platt had slept, too, as soon as she and her husband had finished discussion of the event at the Rock. She surely was remarkably equipped to be in the confidence of a man like Lucas Cullen.
She made Ethel think of him, at moments, not as her grandfather but impersonally as the old, dominating, wilful, violent and sly man who to many millions of people was the embodiment of disregard of others. Lucas Cullen that morning had thought of Ethel impersonally; she had put herself against him, accusing him; therefore she was to be crushed in the way he thought best. Barney Loutrelle too was to be crushed, if what had been done last night was not enough to eliminate him from Lucas Cullen's schemes. But what was that which was done last night? To whom was it done? And why?
The precise, imperturbable person seated beside Ethel and calmly conversing undoubtedly knew; but nothing could make her tell. Ethel felt a mad impulse to seize her and shake her, with the wild idea of shaking the knowledge out of that prim, stiffly poised head. But of course Ethel Carew continued to sit quietly beside Mrs. Merrill Kincheloe while Sam Green Sky obeyed the orders of Lucas Cullen and drove them to the railroad.
Ethel took refuge in thoughts of her friend—the "one of us" who was staying here. He did not want to feel that she wished him to forget their meeting that morning; she did not want to forget it and how he had held to her and understood and asked no advantage but the right to remember.
Her thoughts flew, then, to her father; and she found that, without having been conscious of further reasoning, she was more fully accepting the conjecture she had hazarded about him. Her father had wished to speak with Barney Loutrelle because her father had known that they were to meet; Barney was her only friend then attempting to speak through the veil; and her father wished her to proceed with that which, in his life, he had avoided. Thus, replying now and then to Miss Platt's observations about the snow, the forest and general, current topics, she went on to take the first train to Chicago.