E-text prepared by Al Haines
UNDER SEALED ORDERS
H. A. CODY
Author of The Frontiersman, The Long Patrol, The Chief of the Ranges, etc.
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
To all "Spuds," successful or unsuccessful; to all "Fools," wise or unwise; and to all of "The Devil's Poor," not forgetting authors, this book is sympathetically dedicated.
I. THE LURE OF FALLING WATER II. TO THE LOWEST BIDDER III. ONE, AT LEAST, RINGS TRUE IV. A LITTLE CABIN V. UNMASKED VI. OUT OF BONDAGE VII. AT THE CLOSE OF A DAY VIII. THE SHADOW OF MYSTERY IX. UNITED FORCES X. WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE XI. CURIOSITY AND ANXIETY XII. PYRAMID ROCK XIII. THE DISTURBING LETTER XIV. SUBTLE INFLUENCE XV. THE "CUT OFF" XVI. CHRISTMAS EVE XVII. THE NIGHT SUMMONS XVIII. THE WILD NOR'EASTER XIX. DEVELOPMENTS XX. BUSINESS DETAILS XXI. HARNESSED POWER XXII. IN THE PATH OF DESTRUCTION XXIII. RESCUED XXIV. GATHERING CLOUDS XXV. MYSTERY XXVI. UNDER SUSPICION XXVII. IN THE TOILS XXVIII. LIGHT BREAKS XXIX. LOIS GOES TO THE CITY XXX. A STRANGE COMMISSION XXXI. PAPER NUMBER TWO XXXII. THE TABLES TURNED XXXIII. THE REAL HAVEN
UNDER SEALED ORDERS
THE LURE OF FALLING WATER
It was evening and a late April wind was whipping down the valley. It swayed the tops of the tall pine and spruce trees as they shouldered up from the swift brook below. It tossed into driving spray the water of Break Neck Falls where it leaped one hundred feet below with a thundering roar and swirl. It tossed as well the thin grey hair, long beard, and thread-bare clothes of an old man standing upon a large rock which towered high above the stream.
The entire scene was wild and made weird by the approach of night. But the old man did not seem to notice anything except the falling of the waters. His eyes glowed with an intense light as he kept them fixed upon the leaping and swirling columns below. His face was like the face of a lover turned toward the object of his affection.
For some time the man stood there drinking in the scene before him. Then he took a step forward which brought him perilously near the edge of the steep rock. His lips moved though no sound could be heard for the tumult of the falls which was rending the air. What connection had such a man with his surroundings? No boor or clown was he, for the simple dignity of face and manner marked him as one of Nature's true gentlemen.
It was almost dark when he at last reluctantly left the rock and entered the thick woods where a trail led away from the falls. Along this he moved with the unerring instinct of one who had travelled it often and was sure of his bearings. But ever and anon he paused to listen to the sound of the falling waters which followed him like the voice of a loved one urging him to return.
"Yes, you want me," he at length cried, as he once more paused. "I hear your voice calling, and I know its meaning. Others need you, too, but they do not know it. You have been calling to them for years, but they have not understood your language. It was left for me to listen and take heed. They will some day, and then you will show your power. I can see what you will do, beautiful falls, and the changes which will come to this fair land when your luring voice is heeded."
He stood for awhile as if entranced after uttering these mystic words. Then he continued on his way and night wrapped more closely about him her dark mantle. He had to walk very cautiously now for the trail was rough, and there were sharp stones and roots ready to strike his feet and trip him up.
At length the trail ended and he reached the smooth surface of the broad highway. Along this he sped with the quick elastic step of one who has seen a vision. The fire of a great idea was burning fiercely within him which caused him to take no heed to his surroundings.
He had not gone far, however, ere some strong impulse caused him to pause again and listen to that fascinating sound of falling waters far off in the distance. It was on an elevation in the road where he stopped, and here the shadows which enwrapped the forest were not so heavy. The lingering light of departing day was still in the west and touched this part of the highway with its faint glow. It brought out into clear relief the silhouette of the old man as he stood there with his right hand placed to his ear so as not to miss the least sound drifting down the valley.
So intent was he upon what he heard that he did not notice the sounds of approaching footsteps, so when a man stopped a few yards away and watched him curiously, he was completely unaware of his presence. "Ring on, sweet waters," he cried. "Your voice follows me no matter how far I go. I alone can understand your language, and know what you are saying. All are deaf but me. They hear but do not know your meaning." He ceased, and again listened for a few seconds.
A strange half-mocking laugh startled him, and caused him to look quickly around. Seeing that he was observed, he was about to hurry away, when a man stepped forward.
"Pardon me," he began. "I did not mean to offend you. But your words seem so strange, that I could not help laughing."
"And were you listening to the voice?" the old man eagerly asked. "Do the falling waters speak to you as they do to me? Is that why you are here?"
"Yes, I hear them," was the reply. "But they do not bring any special message to my mind."
"And they do not tell you of power, of the wonderful things they are ready and willing to do when men will heed what they are saying?"
"No, I can't say that they do. They make a noise up there among the trees, but I do not know what they are saying."
"Strange, strange," and the old man placed his hand to his forehead. "You are like all the rest, then. You hear but you do not understand."
"What do you hear?" the newcomer asked, thinking that he was talking to a weak-minded creature.
"I hear great things, which will be for the welfare of the whole community. The waters tell me what they will do. They will make life worth living. They will give light and power to the people all along the river and revolutionise their daily tasks. Instead of hard labour by the sweat of the brow, the waters will do the work. People will be happy, and have time for the beautiful things of life. Grinding toil and sorrow will be banished forever."
"Umph! So that is what you hear, eh? What is the good of hearing such a voice, if you have no power to make it come true?"
"But the people will hear and understand," the old man insisted. "I am telling them about it."
"Yes, I know you are, and they think you are a fool for your efforts. They laugh at you, and call you crazy."
"But they will come to see that I am right. They, too, will hear the voice, and then they will not be able to resist its pleadings."
"If you had the money they would listen to you, for that is the only voice people will heed to-day. If you came here with an abundance of gold, people would hear anything you asked them to in the falls up yonder. But because you are poor, like myself, your ideas will have no more weight with them than the lightest feather. Back your visions with money and people will crowd around you, and you will be heeded. But try to get along without money, and, bah! you are a fool."
Scarcely had these words left his lips ere a raucous honk up the road startled him. Then an auto with blazing lights leaped out of the night. The old man was standing right in its way, unconscious of his danger. Almost instinctively two strong hands clutched him and hurled him into the ditch as the car swept past. Shouts of merriment sounded forth upon the night air from the occupants of the car. The fright they had given the two by the side of the road evidently gave them much amusement. Their laughter caused the rescuer to straighten suddenly up, and clutch the old man fiercely by the arm.
"Did you hear them?" he asked, and his voice was filled with suppressed emotion.
"Yes," was the reply. "They are only thoughtless youths having a good time, I suppose."
"It's just what money does, though. I know who they are, for I caught a glimpse of them as they sped past. It's money that talks with them; that is the only voice they hear. They will ride over the less fortunate, and crush them down as worms beneath their feet. They have been doing it for ages, and look upon it as their right. What do they care about the meaning of the falling waters when they are always listening to the voice of money. Curse them. Why should they revel and sport with ill-got gains, when honest men can hardly get enough to keep breath in their bodies."
The young man was standing erect now on the side of the road. His companion shrank away somewhat fearful lest he should turn upon him and smite him.
"You seem to have suffered," he at length remarked. "You appear to be annoyed at people who have money."
"And why shouldn't I?" was the savage reply. "Haven't I suffered at their hands, young as I am? Haven't I been scorned by them to the limit of all endurance? Haven't they made a mock of me for years, calling me names behind my back? And why? Just because I happen to be poor, and have tried honestly to make my way in life. But there, enough of this. What's the use of talking about such things? It will do no more good than the voice of the waters which you are continually hearing."
Along the road the two walked in deep silence. The old man found it hard to keep up with his companion, and he was at last forced to fall behind. Soon he was alone, and then his thoughts went once more back to the falls, and the glorious vision which was in his mind.
It was only when he reached a small building by the side of the road that he stopped. Pushing open the door, he entered. All was dark and silent within. The strange loneliness of the place would have smitten any one else with the feeling of dread. But the old man never seemed to mind it. Fumbling in his vest pocket, he found a match. This he struck and lighted a tallow dip which was stuck into a rude candle-stick upon a bare wooden table. One glance at the room revealed by the dim light showed its desolate bareness. Besides the table there were two small benches and a wash-stand, containing a granite-iron basin. A small broken-down stove stood at one end of the room, by the side of which was a couch. Not a scrap of mat or rug adorned the floor. There were no blinds or curtains to the cheerless, windows, and not a picture adorned the walls.
But the old man did not notice the desolation of the place. It was quite evident that he was beyond the influence of earthly surroundings for the moment. Going at once to the couch, he brought forth a roll of paper hidden away beneath the pillow. Carrying this over to the table, he sat down upon one of the benches and spread the paper out before him. By the light of the candle it was easy for him to study the carefully-made lines upon the large sheet. Eagerly he scanned the drawings, and then placing the forefinger of his right hand upon one central point, he moved it along one line extending farther than the rest until it stopped at a small square in which was the word "City." This action gave him much satisfaction and a pleased expression lighted up his face. "Power, power," he murmured. "Ay, quicker than thought, and bright as the sun shining in its strength. Great, wonderful! and yet they do not realise it. But they shall know, and understand."
Along the other lines he also ran his finger, pausing at the end of each where was marked "Town," "Village," or "Settlement." He talked continually as he did so, but it was all about "glory" and "power." Over and over again he repeated these words, now in a soft low voice, and again in a loud triumphant manner.
At length he rose from the bench, crossed the room, opened the door, and stepped outside. Not a star was to be seen, and the wind was stronger than ever. It was keen, piercing. But the man heeded neither the one nor the other. He was listening intently, and the faint sound of Break Neck Falls drifting in from the distance was to him the sweetest of music.
And as he stood there a sudden change took place. His dead drooped, and he leaned against the side of the building for support. A shiver shook his body, and as he turned and entered the house his steps were slow, and he half-stumbled across the threshold. He looked at the wood-box behind the stove, but there was not a stick in it. He next opened the door of the little cupboard near by, but not a scrap of food was there. Almost mechanically he thrust his hand into his pocket and brought forth a purse. This he opened, but there was nothing inside. Half-dazed he stood there in the centre of the room. Then he glanced toward the paper with the drawings lying upon the table, and as he did so a peculiar light of comprehension shone in his eyes.
TO THE LOWEST BIDDER
There was an unusually large number of people gathered in front of Thomas Marshall's store one morning about the last of May. Women were there as well as men, and all were talking and laughing in a most pleasant way. The cause of this excitement was explained by a notice tacked on the store door.
"The Board, Lodging, and Clothing of David Findley, Pauper, will be let to the lowest bidder for a period of one year, on Wednesday, May 30th inst., at Thomas Marshall's store, Chutes Corner, at 10 o'clock A. M.
"J. B. FLETCHER T. S. TITUS O. R. MITCHELL Overseers of Poor."
This notice had been posted there for about two weeks, and had attracted the attention of all the people in the parish. It was out of the ordinary for such a sale to take place at this season of the year. Hitherto, it had occurred at the last of December. But this was an exceptional case, and one in which all were keenly interested.
"I hear he is stark crazy," Mrs. Munson was saying to a neighbour, Peter McQueen, "and that he has a funny notion in his head."
"Should say so," McQueen replied. "Any man who has lived as he has for months must be pretty well off his base. Why, he didn't have a scrap of food in the house when he was found by Jim Trask one morning the last of April. Jim has been keeping him ever since."
"Isn't he able to work?" Mrs. Munson inquired.
"Seems not. I guess he's a scholar or something like that, and did some book-keeping in the city until he drifted this way. He must have had a little money to live as long as he has. He's always been a mystery to me."
"And to everybody else, I guess."
"Yes, so it appears. But it's a great pity that we've got to be burdened with the likes of him. Our taxes are heavy enough now without having to take care of this strange pauper. We've got too many on our hands already for our good."
"But do you know anything about that queer notion of his, Pete?" Mrs. Munson asked.
"Ho, ho, I've heard about it, and I guess it's true all right. He's in love with Break Neck Falls, and makes regular trips there every day, and sometimes at night. Jim followed him once, and saw him standing upon that high rock right by the falls. He kept waving his hands and shouting to the water, though Jim could not make out what he was saying. He has some writing on a piece of paper which he keeps very close. He has told, though, that his plan will do wonderful things for the city and the whole surrounding country. He once said that we don't know what a valuable thing we have right in our midst. I guess we've lived here longer than he has, and should know a thing or two. It is not necessary for a half-cracked old man to come and tell us of our possessions. But, say, here he is now, coming along in Jim Trask's farm waggon."
As the team drew near, all eyes were turned in its direction, for the first glimpse of "Crazy David," as he was generally called. There was no difficulty about seeing him for he was sitting by Jim's side on the rough board seat. He looked much older and careworn than the night he had awakened from his dream, and found his wood-box, cupboard, and pocket-book empty. He had sat huddled on the seat for most of the way up the road, but when near the store he lifted his eyes and fixed them curiously upon the people before him. There was something pathetically appealing in the expression upon his face. He seemed like a man trying to recall something to his mind. He appeared strangely out of place in that rough farm waggon. Even his almost ragged clothes could not hide the dignity of his bearing as he straightened himself up and tried to assume the appearance of a gentleman. The people saw this effort on his part, and several wondered and spoke about it afterwards.
At first the old man did not seem to realise the purpose of the gathering. But when he saw the auctioneer mount a box alongside of him and call for bids, the truth of the entire situation dawned upon him. He was to be sold as a pauper to the lowest bidder, so he heard the auctioneer say. For an instant a deep feeling of anger stirred within his bosom, and he lifted his head as if to say something. But seeing the eyes of all fixed upon him, he desisted.
"What am I offered for the keep of this old man?" the auctioneer cried. "The lowest bid gets him."
"Two hundred dollars," came from a man not far off.
"Two hundred dollars!" and the auctioneer turned fiercely upon him. "You're out for a bargain, Joe Tippits. Why, he's worth that to any man for a year's work. He'll be able to do many an odd job. Come, you can do better than that."
"One seventy-five," came from another.
"Too much," the auctioneer cried. "The parish can't stand that."
"One fifty, then."
"That's better, Joe. Try again. You're a long way off yet."
"I'll take the critter fer one hundred dollars, and not a cent less."
At these emphatic words all turned and stared hard at the speaker. A perceptible shiver passed through the bystanders, while several muttered protests were heard.
"Oh, I hope he won't get him, anyway," Mrs. Munson whispered to a neighbour. "Jim Goban isn't a fit man to look after a snake, and if he gets Crazy David in his clutches may God have mercy upon the poor old man."
"One hundred dollars I am offered," again the voice of the auctioneer rang out. "Can any one do better than that? One hundred dollars. Going at one hundred dollars. I shan't dwell. One—hundred—dollars—and—sold to Jim Goban for one hundred dollars."
This inhuman traffic did not seriously affect the people who had gathered for the auction. When it was over, they quickly dispersed, to discuss with one another about the life Jim Goban would lead Crazy David. It was an incident of only a passing moment, and mattered little more to them than if it had been a horse or a cow which had been sold instead of a poor feeble old man.
It was the custom which had been going on for years, and it was the only way they could see out of the difficult problem of dealing with paupers.
When Jim Goban reached home with his purchase, dinner was ready. There were five young Gobans who stared curiously upon David as he took his seat at the table. Mrs. Goban was a thin-face, tired looking woman who deferred to her husband in everything. There was nothing else for her to do, as she had found out shortly after their marriage what a brute he was.
David was pleased at the presence of the children and he often turned his eyes upon them.
"Nice children," he at length remarked, speaking for the first time since his arrival.
"So ye think they're nice, do ye?" Jim queried, leaning over and looking the old man in the eyes.
"Why, yes," David replied, shrinking back somewhat from the coarse face. "All children are nice to me, but yours are especially fine ones. What nice hair they have, and such beautiful eyes. I suppose the oldest go to school."
"Naw. They never saw the inside of a school house."
"You don't say so!" and David looked his astonishment. "Surely there must be a school near here."
"Oh, yes, there's a school all right, but they've never gone. I don't set any store by eddication. What good is it to any one, I'd like to know? Will it help a man to hoe a row of pertaters, or a woman to bake bread? Now, look at me. I've no eddication, an' yit I've got a good place here, an' a bank account. You've got eddication, so I understand, an' what good is it to you? I'm one of the biggest tax-payers in the parish, an' you, why yer nothing but a pauper, the Devil's Poor."
At this cruel reminder David shrank back as from a blow, and never uttered another word during the rest of the meal. The iron was entering into his soul, and he was beginning to understand something of the ignominy he was to endure at this house.
"Now look here," Jim began when they were through with dinner, "I've a big pile of wood out there in the yard, an' I want ye to tote it into the wood-house an' pile it up. I'll show ye where to put it. I'm gittin' mighty little fer yer keep, an' I expect ye to git a hustle on to help pay fer yer grub an' washin'."
"Don't be too hard on him, Jim," Mrs. Goban remarked. "He doesn't look very strong."
"Don't ye worry, Kitty, I'll attend to that. I know a wrinkle or two."
David was accordingly taken to the wood-house and Jim explained to him how and where he was to pile the wood. "Ye needn't kill yerself," he told him in conclusion. "But I want ye to keep busy, fer when that job's through I've got something else on hand. Ye can sit down when ye feel a little tired, but don't sit too long or too often, see?"
For about half an hour David worked patiently at the wood, piling it as neatly as possible. The work was not hard, and he was quite satisfied with his task. He was alone, anyway, and could think about his beloved falls. His hands, however, were soft, and ere long they were bruised and bleeding from the rough sticks. At length a sharp splinter entered his finger, and he sat down upon a stick to pull it out. In trying to do this, it broke off leaving a portion deeply embedded in the flesh, which caused him considerable pain. Not knowing what to do, he sat looking upon the finger in a dejected manner.
"What's the matter? You seem to be in trouble."
At these words David looked quickly around, and saw a young girl standing by his side. Though her dress was old and worn, her face was bright, and her eyes sparkled with interest.
"Here, let me take that splinter out," she ordered, as she sat down by his side, and drawing forth a needle, began to probe into the flesh. "There, I've got it!" she cried in triumph. "My! it's a monster. You'll have to be more careful after this. You should have gloves."
"Thank you very much," David replied. "To whom am I indebted for this kindness?"
"Oh, I'm Betty Bean, that's all."
"And you live here?"
"No. I'm just dying here."
"Dying!" David exclaimed in surprise. "Why, you don't look like a dying person."
"Maybe I don't, but I am. I'm just staying here because I have to. My mother's a widow, and I want to earn some money to help her, and as this was the only place I could get I had to take it."
"So you do not like it, then?"
"Who would like any place where there is such a brute as Jim Goban? My, I'm sorry for you. To think of any man getting into his clutches."
"But surely I won't be any worse off than you are."
"I'm not so sure about that. You see, I'm about boss here, and do and say just what I like."
"Well, I'm the only person Jim can get to work here. All the girls for miles around know what kind of a creature he is, and they wouldn't come for any amount of money. They're scared to death of him. But I'm not, and I tell him right to his face what I think of him, and the way he treats his poor wife. He would like to horsewhip me, but he knows that if I leave no one else would come in my place. But I'm glad now that I am here so I can look after you."
"Look after me!"
"Yes. I guess you'll need me all right. I know who you are, and I'm sorry for you. I'm going to stand between you and Jim Goban. He's scared to death of me, for I'm the only one who dares give him a tongue-lashing, and I do it whenever it is necessary, which is quite often."
"You're a brave girl," and David looked with admiration upon the slight form by his side. "How old are you?"
"Fifteen last March. But one's age is nothing. I've done a woman's work ever since I was ten. I stand up for my rights now, though. When I first came here Jim was bound that I should work all the time. But at last I told him that I was going to have every Saturday afternoon off, especially in summer, so I could go home or out upon the river. Can you row?" she suddenly asked.
"A little," was the reply.
"That's good. Now, look, I'm going to take you out in the boat next Saturday, and you're going to meet somebody there you'll like."
"Somebody I like," David repeated. "Who is it?"
"It's a woman, that's who it is. But I'm not going to tell you her name. She only came here last week, and she is so fond of the water, and spends so much time upon it. Oh, you'll like her when you see her. She's a beauty, with such lovely eyes and dark hair. And she's not a bit stuck up, either. She just talks in a friendly way, and makes you feel easy all over. There, now, I guess you'd better pile some more wood. I have a bit of work to do, and when I'm through I'll come out and give you a hand. I like to be with you. I know we're going to be friends."
The girl rose, and was about to leave. She paused, however, and looked inquiringly into the old man's face.
"Do you smoke?" she asked.
Into David's eyes came an eager expression, which Betty was not slow to see.
"I know you do," she cried, "but you have no tobacco."
"I have a pipe," and David fumbled into a pocket of his coat. "But I haven't had a smoke for weeks, because——"
"I know, I know," the girl hastily replied. "I'll get you some in a jiffy."
She was gone only a short time when she returned, and handed David half a fig of tobacco.
"There, take that," she said. "It's a piece Jim left on the kitchen window-sill."
"But is it right for me to take it?" David asked.
"Sure it's right. Didn't Jim agree to feed and lodge you for one year? You can't live without tobacco. It's a part of your food, see? If Jim says anything about it, I'll soon settle him."
"You are a good girl," David returned, as with trembling hands he hastily whittled off a few slices of tobacco with an old knife, and filled his pipe. "This will put new life into me. I can never repay you for your kindness."
ONE, AT LEAST, RINGS TRUE
With the small boat pulled well upon the beach, Lois Sinclair stood for a few moments looking out over the water. Her eyes were fixed upon a little boat in the distance containing two people, an old man and a young girl. The wind, which was steadily increasing, tossed her wavy, luxuriant hair over her brow, while several tresses fell across her cheeks, flushed by the recent rowing. She knew that she should be home, for supper would be waiting and her father would be impatient. But she hesitated. Her thoughts were out there on the water where she loved to be. The twang of the wind as it swept through the trees along the shore, and the beat of the surf upon the gravelly beach were music sweet to her ears.
At length, with one more lingering glance out upon the river, she turned and walked along a path leading from the shore. She moved slowly, for she was not at all anxious to reach the house situated about two hundred yards beyond. And yet it was an attractive house, well-built, and cosy in appearance, designed both for summer and winter use. A spacious verandah swept the front and ends, over which clambered a luxuriant growth of wild grape vines. Large trees of ash, elm, and maple spread their expansive branches over the well-kept lawn, providing an excellent shade when the sun was hot. Altogether, it was a most delightful spot to spend the summer months away from the smoke and confusion of the city.
The place, however, did not altogether appeal to Lois Sinclair. If she had needed rest, the situation would have been ideal. But it was activity she desired, and not luxurious ease such as so many crave, especially two young men lolling on the verandah awaiting her coming. Even though one was her brother, she could not restrain a feeling of contempt as she looked upon their white faces, soft hands, and immaculate clothes. Why should men, she asked herself, be so ready and willing to give themselves completely up to effeminate habits when their blood was hot within them, and the great Open was calling them with such a strong insistent voice?
The young woman's arrival brought one of the young men to his feet, with the offer of a hammock.
"Please do not trouble yourself," she told him. "I must hurry and get ready for dinner. I know that father is very angry with me."
"He is not the only one who is angry, I can assure you," Sammie Dingle remarked. "We have been furious with you for leaving us this afternoon when we needed your company so much in the car. I cannot understand how you can enjoy yourself alone out on the river in that nasty boat."
"No, I suppose you cannot," Lois replied, and so infatuated was Sammie with the young woman that he did not notice the slightest sarcasm in her words.
"Hurry up, Lois," her brother ordered, "I'm almost starved. Dad's got it in for you."
"All right, Dick," was her reply. "I shall be down in a few minutes. Why did you wait for me? You had better go to dinner at once, if you are so hungry."
It took Lois but a short time upstairs, and when she came down she found the three men in the dining-room. Her father was in one of his surly moods, and this she could tell at the first glance. He was a short man, somewhat stout, and pompous both in appearance and manner. Fortunate it was that his only daughter had inherited none of his qualities, but was more like her mother, whose memory she cherished with undying affection. Since her death home had been more of a prison to her than anything else. Neither her father nor her only brother had understood her, and she was forced to depend more and more upon her own reliant self.
"What kept you so late, Lois?" her father asked as soon as she had taken her place at the table. "You know very well that I do not like to wait for dinner."
"I am very sorry, father," was the reply, "but I became so greatly interested in an old man and a girl out on the river that I had no idea how time was passing."
"Who were they, Lois?" her brother enquired.
"What new creatures have you picked up now? You haven't run out of homeless cats and dogs, have you?"
The colour mounted to Lois' temples at these words, for it was not the first time she had been sneered at for her tenderness of heart for all suffering creatures. With difficulty she restrained an angry reply, and went on calmly with her dinner.
"Come, Lois," Sammie urged, "never mind Dick. He must have his little joke, don't you know. He was only in fun."
"A joke with a sharp thorn in it isn't much fun," and Lois looked Sammie full in the eyes. "One might do far worse than take an interest in such people as I met this afternoon out upon the river. They appealed to me very much and I am not ashamed to confess it. The man is a perfect gentleman, while the girl is so pretty, and full of life and fun."
"What's her name?" Dick asked. "I'm getting quite excited over her."
"She's Betty Bean, so she told me, and the old man is David Findley."
"What, Crazy David, that miserable pauper?" Mr. Sinclair asked. "And you call such a creature a gentleman?"
"Certainly, and why not? His face is so beautiful, and his whole manner shows that he has moved much in refined society."
"Ho, ho, that's a good one," and Dick leaned back in his chair and laughed aloud. "Crazy David a gentleman, with a beautiful face, and refined manners! Think of that, dad."
"Lois evidently doesn't know that Crazy David is a pauper, the Devil's Poor, and was sold to Jim Goban to board and lodge for a year. He went pretty low, so I understand."
At these words an expression of surprise came into Lois' eyes, mingled with indignation. She looked keenly into her father's face, thinking that he must be merely joking.
"I can hardly believe that what you say is true," she at length remarked. "I did not know that such things were carried on in a Christian community. Is it possible that an old man such as that was sold like a cow or a horse to the lowest bidder!"
"Well, what else could have been done with him, then?"
"Wasn't there any one in the whole parish, willing to take care of him?"
"H'm, I guess people have all they can do to look after themselves without being burdened with a half-cracked creature such as that. It was the best thing they could do. It would not be fair for one person to have the entire expense of keeping him, so by this method all have a share in his support."
"But I call it degrading," Lois insisted, "not only to the old man himself, but to the people living here. He seems such a gentleman, that I was drawn to him this afternoon."
"Going to take him under your wing, eh?" Dick bantered. "He'll be as interesting as your other protege, I assure you. By the way, I saw him this afternoon, and he looked his part all right, ho, ho," and Dick laughed as he gulped down his tea.
"Who's that, Dick?" Mr. Sinclair inquired.
"Oh, Lois knows," was the reply. "She can tell you all about 'Spuds' as well as I can, and maybe better."
"Why should I know?" his sister asked, somewhat sharply. "I only met him once, and that was years ago."
"But you always take his part, though, so he seems to be somewhat under your care."
"And why shouldn't I? He deserves great credit for what he has done, and it is very unbecoming of you to make fun of him."
"I wish you could have seen him this afternoon, though," and Dick glanced across the table at Sammie. "We were speeding along in the car when we saw him hoeing potatoes in a field by the road. His clothes were all soiled, his sleeves rolled up, and he looked like a regular bushman. I called out to him as we sped past, and you should have seen the expression on his face when he saw us. It was like a thunder cloud. I guess he felt pretty well cut up at being caught at such work, ha, ha."
"Whom are you talking about, anyway?" Mr. Sinclair demanded. "What's all this about 'Spuds,' I'd like to know?"
"Oh, it's only that country chap we met several years ago, don't you remember?" Dick explained. "His real name, I believe, is Jasper Randall, though we have always called him Spuds, because he was digging potatoes when we first met him."
"You don't mean that big overgrown boy who helped us to carry Lois home the day she sprained her ankle at Daltan Creek?"
"The very same, dad. And you remember what fun we had at the way he sat and drank his tea out of the saucer?"
"But I didn't." Lois spoke sharply, while a flush mantled her cheeks.
"Oh, no, you didn't make fun," Dick laughed. "You were mad through and through, and gave us a good solid lecture afterwards."
Lois made no reply, so while the men talked, she let her mind dwell upon that scene of years ago. She saw again the lank awkward lad who was so concerned about her accident. While helping to carry her home, he had been much at his ease, and his eyes glowed with a sympathetic light. But when once in the house, his natural shyness had come upon him, and he did not know what to do with himself in the presence of strangers. One thing stood out above everything else, and that was his look of indignant defiance when Dick laughed because he drank his tea out of the saucer. She liked the way he had straightened himself suddenly up, while his eyes flashed with a peculiar light. The next that she heard of him was several years later when he entered college in Dick's year. Then every time her brother had come home he had such stories to tell her about Spuds. And so he was now living near working on a farm. Why did he not go home? she asked herself. She wondered also what he looked like now. Was he lank and awkward as when she saw him? She longed to ask Dick several questions, but desisted, knowing that it would be to little purpose. Her brother would only make fun of him, and she would be sure to get angry.
When supper was over, the men sauntered out upon the verandah for a smoke. Lois went, too, but sat somewhat apart with a piece of needlework in her hands. She preferred to be alone that she might think. She thought first of old David, and his pitiable condition. What could she do to help him? she asked herself. It was not right that he should be kept as a pauper while there were several people in the parish who could provide for him without the least trouble. Her father was one of them, and she was determined to speak to him just as soon as she could.
From old David it was only natural that her mind should turn to Jasper Randall. She recalled his animated face the day her ankle had been sprained. He was but a big overgrown boy then, and she had just graduated from school. She had never forgotten him, and had followed his career while at college as well as she could from what her brother told her. And so he was now working on a farm nearby. A longing came upon her to see him, and to learn if he had changed much since that day years ago. As she glanced toward her brother and Sammie, so effeminate in their manner, and dressed with such scrupulous care, a feeling of contempt smote her. They disdained honest toil, and would scorn to soil their soft white hands with manual labor. But over there was a young man toil-worn, and no doubt sunburnt, clad in rough clothes earning his living by the sweat of his brow. Such a person appealed to her. He would form an interesting study, if nothing else. There must be some connection between that potato patch and the college, she told herself, and she was determined to find out what it was.
As she thus sat and worked, her thoughts keeping time to her fingers, Sammie came and took a seat by her side. She glanced quickly up, with a shade of annoyance on her face. They were alone on the verandah, for her father and Dick were nowhere to be seen.
"You are very quiet this evening, Lois," the young man began. "I have been watching you for the last half hour, and you never looked our way once, nor took any interest in what we were saying. You are not offended, are you?"
"Offended! At what?" Lois asked as she let her needlework fall upon her lap.
"At me. Have I done anything to annoy you?"
"I wasn't thinking about you at all, Sammie," and Lois looked him full in the eyes. "My mind was upon more important things."
"And you don't consider me important?" the young man demanded, visibly embarrassed.
"Why should I? What have you done that you should be considered important?"
"But my father is rich, and we belong to a good old family. I am a gentleman, and that should count for much."
"So you seem to think," was the somewhat sarcastic reply. "I do not for a moment deny that such things are valuable, but they count for very little in my estimation of a true man. He must prove his worth in the battle of life, and show to the world that he is something apart from how much money his father may have or his family history. Now what have you done that I should consider you important?"
"Nothing at present, Lois, for I am not through college yet. But I am going to do great things some day, and then you will change your opinion of me."
"I hope so," and Lois gave a sigh as she picked up her work.
"You don't believe what I say?" and Sammie reddened.
"Not until I see you settle down to something definite. You do not know how to work, and how, then, can you expect to succeed?"
"But you would not want to see me working like Spuds, for instance, would you?"
"And why not? He is not afraid to soil his hands at honest labor. Why he is doing so I do not know, but there must be some good reason."
"Oh, I know. He wants money to help him to finish his college course. He left very suddenly, so I understand. Of course, he was not in our set, and so I know very little about him. He studied hard, and kept much to himself, so he has always been somewhat of a mystery. But say, Lois, never mind talking about him. I want to ask you something, for I am going away to-morrow."
"What is it, Sammie?" and again Lois laid down her work. She had an idea what he wanted to say, though it did not affect her in the least.
"I—I want to s-say," the young man stammered, "that you are the o-only——"
Sammie was suddenly arrested in his protestation of love by Dick's voice at the door.
"Say, come inside," he called. "It's beginning to rain, and it's spoiled my ride this evening. It's going to be confounded dull to-night, so give us some music, Lois, to liven things up a bit."
With an amused smile, his sister willingly obeyed. Sammie followed her into the house, mentally cursing Dick for his untimely interruption.
A LITTLE CABIN
Betty and old David had a great afternoon out upon the water in the small row-boat. They were delighted with Lois, and after she had left them they watched her until she disappeared within the house.
"Isn't she wonderful!" Betty exclaimed, as she at length picked up the oars which had been lying unused in the bottom of the boat.
"Who is she, anyway?" her companion asked, for it was evident that he was as much lost in admiration as was the girl.
"Oh, she's Miss Sinclair, Lois, they call her, and her father is very rich. He is president, or something like that, of the street railway and the electric light company in the city. Ma knows all about him, and she has told me a whole lot. He was very poor once, so she says. He's awful mean and stuck up and won't have anything to do with the people he knew when he was young. But his daughter isn't a bit like him. She takes after her mother, so I understand, who was a very fine woman."
"Does Mr. Sinclair live here all the time?" David inquired. "I never heard of him before."
"Oh, no. He has a big house in the city. He only bought this place last summer. Lois has never been here before. She came two weeks ago and I think she is going to stay till fall. I hope she does, anyway. Won't it be great to have her here, so we can meet her and talk to her every Saturday afternoon?"
"She seems to be a very fine young woman," David assented.
"Indeed she is, and she's a nurse, too. She's been away training in some hospital for several years, and has just got through."
"Why should she want to be a nurse?" David asked. "If her father has plenty of money why should his daughter want to earn her own living?"
"It's because she's so independent, that's why. She believes every one should earn her own living, and I guess she's right."
A pained expression suddenly overspread the old man's face at these words. But so engrossed was Betty with her own thoughts that she noticed nothing amiss.
"I am going to be a nurse some day," the girl continued. "Just as soon as I am old enough I am going to enter a hospital. Then when I get through I can earn so much money and be such a help at home. And I'm going to help you, too," she added as an afterthought.
"No, child, that will not be necessary then," David replied. "I shall have plenty of money of my own by the time you are a nurse. I shall be manager of the biggest company the country has ever known, for it cannot be long now before people realise how wonderful is the scheme I have worked out. They have been very slow to see, but I am sure that a great change is soon to take place."
"But you might be sick, though," the girl insisted, "and will need me to nurse you. I won't charge you anything, for I shall gladly do it for nothing because it will be you."
"Oh, I wouldn't let you do it for nothing," was the reply. "I shall pay you well and make up for all your kindness to me now when I am so poor."
In this manner the two sat and talked. Happy were they for the time, thinking and planning of the future which looked so bright in their eyes. Neither did they notice for a while where they had drifted, for a stiff wind had risen and was drawing down the creek. It was Betty who first realised their situation.
"Oh, look where we are!" she cried, seizing the oars, and placing them in the row-locks. "We can never get back against this wind, and the water is getting rougher all the time. I believe it is going to rain."
"Let me row," David suggested. "I should be stronger than you."
"Did you ever row?" the girl asked.
"Only once. But I think I could do it, though."
"Well, I don't think you could. You're not nearly as strong as I am."
With that she settled herself to the task of pulling back into the creek against the wind which was dead ahead. For some time there was silence as she toiled steadily at the oars. Gradually, however, her strokes became weaker, and she was forced to rest.
"I can't do it," she gasped. "The wind is too strong."
"What are we to do, then?" David asked.
"Land on that shore over there. I guess we can reach it all right."
Again seizing the oars, she swung the boat partly around and pointed for the shore. It was much easier now, and she made considerable progress. The wind increased in strength, and at times the water dashed over the side of the boat. To add to their discomfort the rain began to fall, and by the time the shore was reached their clothes were wet, and David felt cold.
"Help me pull up the boat," Betty ordered. "We'll tie it to that tree, and then we'll look around for some shelter. There's a raftsman's cabin not far away, and maybe we can stay there."
With the boat securely fastened, they made their way along the shore until they came to a path leading up from the water. Following this through the bushes, they soon reached an open space, and there before them appeared a small building covered with tarred paper.
"That's the place," Betty exclaimed, "and I know there is a stove there for I was in it once. The raftsmen used it this last spring. We can build a fire and dry our clothes before we go home."
Betty was the first to reach the cabin, and as she pushed open the door she gave a cry of surprise.
"What's the matter?" David inquired, thinking that she had been frightened.
But Betty did not at once reply. She stood in the middle of the room, looking around in a bewildered manner.
"Well I never!" she at length declared. "Why the place is all fixed up, and somebody must surely be living here. Who can it be, for I never heard a word about it, and I thought that I knew everything that was going on in this parish. Just look at that table now, with the dishes all washed so clean. And there are books, too," she added, "and pictures on the wall. I never knew a man could keep a room so neat."
"How do you know that it is a man?" David asked. "Perhaps it is a woman."
"Why, that's easy enough," and Betty looked around the room. "Don't you see a man's boots there, his clothes hanging up by the stove, and a package of tobacco on the window-sill? I guess it's a man all right."
"Perhaps you are right," David assented. "You know more about such things than I do. Anyway, it's nice to be here out of the storm. But do you think the man will mind when he comes back and finds us here? He might be very angry with us."
"Let him get angry, then," and Betty gave her head a slight toss. "I don't care for angry men. If I can match Jim Goban, I guess I can handle any man who comes here. Leave that to me, and don't you worry. I'm going to do a little exploring, anyway. I want to see what's in that other room. Ah, just what I thought," she continued, when she had opened the door and entered. "It's the bed-room, and the bed is not made. That shows all right that a man lives here. A woman would never think of going away and leaving the bed like that. I'm going to open the window and air the room. Men always keep the windows shut tight, and the house gets so stuffy. There, that's better," she panted, as after some difficulty she forced the window up. "I'm going to make up that bed just as soon as I get the fire going."
There was a box full of dry wood behind the stove, and soon she had a fire burning brightly. She next partly filled a small kettle with water and set it upon the stove.
"You had better take off your wet coat," she suggested to David. "You'll get your death of cold if you keep it on much longer."
"Can't I help you?" the old man inquired, as he stood watching with admiration the girl's light step and the skilful way she did everything. There was a longing in his eyes as well, for he wanted to be of some use but did not know how.
"Yes, you can help me," and Betty smiled upon him, "by taking that coat off and sitting down upon that nice cosy place near the stove. It was certainly made for comfort, and the man who owns this building must spend his evenings there. What a lot of books he has. He must read a great deal."
David was only too glad to obey, so after he had taken off his coat and hung it up back of the stove to dry, he stretched himself at full length upon the settle.
"This does feel good," and he gave a sigh of relief.
"You're tired, that's what's the trouble with you," Betty replied. "You shouldn't have a bit of work to do. You're too old, and you should have some one to look after you all the time."
"How nice it would be if we could live in a place like this, and not go back to Jim Goban's. Would you be willing to take care of me?" David asked.
"Sure, I would like nothing better. But, then, there are some things in the way."
"What are they?"
"Well, you see, there's the question of money. We haven't any ourselves, and I don't think any one is likely to drop it at our feet in a hurry. And besides, Jim's got you for a year and he wouldn't want to give you up; he's going to get a lot of work out of you, so he plans."
"I know that only too well, Betty. But when I get rich, I mean. If I had a little place like this you would look after me, would you not? I would pay you well, and we could be so happy."
"Indeed we could. But you haven't the money yet and we must try to be as happy as we can in the meantime. That's what ma says, and she really does practise it. So I've got to look after you now when you can't pay me. I'm going to see if I can't find something to eat. The man who lives here surely doesn't live on air. He must have some food in the house."
It did not take Betty long to find the cupboard. This was nothing more than a box nailed to the wall, on which a rude door had been fastened. There were three shelves and on these were a loaf of bread, some cold meat, potatoes, eggs and cheese.
"Isn't this great!" she exclaimed, as she brought forth what she needed. "I can warm up these potatoes, and we shall have a grand supper."
"I am worrying about the man who owns those things," David remarked. "He might not mind our using his house, but when it comes to making free with his provisions, it might be a different matter. Do you think it is right for us to touch them?"
"We won't take all," and Betty stood before the table eying the meat and potatoes. "We can leave enough for him. If he is a kind man he will not mind our taking some of his supper. How dark it is getting," she added. "I shall light that lamp. Now, isn't that better," she continued when this had been accomplished. "We shall have supper in a short time."
While Betty busied herself about the stove, David remained stretched out upon the settle. Outside, the storm increased in fury, and the rain heat against the window. Within, all was snug and warm. The girl even hummed softly to herself as she went on with her work.
When supper was ready, Betty spoke to David. As he made no reply, she went to his side and, to her surprise, found that he was asleep. An expression of tender compassion came into the girl's eyes as she watched him. She knew how tired he was and she would not wake him. It was better, so she thought, that he should sleep. Drawing up a chair, she sat down by his side. A feeling came to her that it was her duty to care for this old man who was so helpless. She could not do much, but when Betty Bean had once made up her mind it was seldom that she could be turned from her purpose.
All the morning Jasper Randall was busy hoeing potatoes in the large field near the main highway. He liked the work, for he was alone and could give himself up to thought as he drove the hoe into the yielding earth. His task suited him well, and as he tore out innumerable weeds, slashing down a big one here and another there, he was in reality overcoming and defeating opponents of the brain. They were all there between the rows, and he could see them so plainly. The lesser ones he could sweep away at one stroke, but that quitch grass was more difficult to conquer. He could cut it off, but its roots would remain firmly embedded in the ground and would spring forth again. It was a nasty, persistent weed. Little wonder that he attacked it most fiercely, for it reminded him of the weed of injustice with which he had been contending for years. Other enemies, like the smaller weeds, he could overcome, but injustice, that quitch grass of life, was what stung him to fury. Little did Simon Squabbles, the tight old skin-flint, realise that the lone man working in his potato field was doing the work of two men that morning, and at the same time slaying a whole battalion of bitter enemies. The contest was continued during the afternoon. The quitch grass was thicker now, and the struggle harder. With savage delight Jasper had just torn out a whole handful and had shaken it free from its earth as a dog would shake a rat, when the honk of an auto caused him to look toward the road. As he did so, his face underwent a marvellous transformation. The car was only a few seconds in passing, but it was sufficient for him to recognise the occupants, see the amused expression upon their faces, and hear their salutation of "Spuds," as they sped by. His strong, supple body trembled as he leaned for a while upon his hoe and gazed down the road after the rapidly disappearing car. He must have remained thus for several minutes oblivious to everything else. Neither did he see his hard taskmaster watching him in the distance. But when he again resumed his hoeing he worked more fiercely than ever, and there was danger at times lest the frail hoe should break beneath his tremendous strokes. Up one row and down another he moved all the afternoon. He seemed like a giant tearing up the earth, rather than a man performing a prosaic task. When toward evening the sky darkened, the wind began to blow and the rain to fall, he hardly noticed it at first. Only when the earth became mucky and stuck constantly to his hoe, did he leave his work and go across the field toward the barn. It was time, anyway, to help with the chores. He was anxious to get through that he might go home. He was glad that it was Saturday, for he would have the next day free.
It was dark by the time his tasks were done, and then he went to the house for his week's pay. He had agreed to work for a dollar and a half a day, and get his own breakfast and supper at home. Thus he had nine dollars coming to him for his week's work. He was surprised, therefore, when Simon Squabbles handed him out only eight dollars and fifty cents.
"There is some mistake here," Jasper remarked as he counted over the money. "I want fifty cents more."
"That's all you're goin' to get," Simon replied. "I saw ye loafin' this afternoon when ye should have been workin', an' 'no work, no pay' is my motto."
"Loafing, do you say?" Jasper asked, thinking that he had not heard aright.
"Sure. Didn't I see ye leanin' on yer hoe watchin' that car which went down the road? An' ye stood there a long time, too."
Into Jasper's eyes leaped an angry fire. He understood now the man he had to deal with. So he had been watching him, and he had taken no account of the work he had done all day.
"You were spying upon me, eh?" he retorted. "Didn't you see how I did the work of two men to-day?"
"All I know is that you were loafin' when I saw ye, an' that was enough."
"Look here, Simon Squabbles," and Jasper stepped close to his employer, "if you were not as old as you are, I'd tie you into a bowknot in the twinkling of an eye. You're not fit to be called a man, and not another stroke of work do you get from me. Keep the fifty cents, if it will do you any good. I am trying to make an honest living, but creatures such as you are the ones who make it almost impossible."
The blood surged through Jasper's veins as he plodded along the muddy road towards his humble cabin. The rain beat upon him and soaked his clothes, but he did not seem to heed it, so filled was his mind with the contemptible meanness of old Squabbles. He was in no pleasant mood, and his hands often clenched hard together as he moved through the darkness. What he was to do in the future, he did not know. Neither did he much care. A reckless spirit was upon him. The whole world was seething with injustice, so he believed. He had tried to be honest, to make his way, but he had been foiled at every step. Why should he try any longer? Simon Squabbles prospered through injustice; Dick Sinclair could ride along in his car, dressed in the height of fashion, while he had to eke out a precarious living by hoeing potatoes. Dick's father had made his money in an unscrupulous manner, and was held up as a shrewd business man. Would it not be as well for him to hurl himself into the game and win out, no matter how?
Thinking thus, he came near his cabin, when a light arrested his attention. He stopped short in his tracks and peered through the darkness. At first he believed that he must be mistaken. But no, it shone steadily before him, and he knew that some one was there. The thought made him angry, and he hurried forward, determined to make an example of the one who had dared to meddle with his property.
Reaching the building, he peered cautiously through the uncurtained window. As he did so, his anger suddenly ceased when he beheld the pathetic scene within, of an old man lying asleep upon the couch and a young girl patiently watching by his side. Why they were there he did not know, though he felt certain that great necessity must have driven them to take refuge in a strange cabin. He recognised old David as the man he had met that night on the road listening to the voice of Break Neck Falls. He knew that he had been sold to Jim Goban for one year, and the transaction had rankled in his soul for days. The girl he did not know, but she seemed to him like a ministering angel watching over the slumber of the sleeping man. This thought caused him to study her more intently, for notwithstanding his strength and independence of mind, he could not forget the pictures he had seen and the stories he had heard as a child of angels coming to earth on special deeds of mercy. He banished this idea, however, in an instant, and even smiled at his own foolishness as he turned away from the window and moved around the corner of the cabin.
He was about to push open the door and enter when a sudden notion came into his mind which caused him to pause. He stood there with the rain beating upon him as he thought over the idea. Then he stepped toward the door and gave a gentle tap. In a few seconds Betty stood before him, peering into the darkness. The sight of the large man standing there caused her to start and draw somewhat back.
"Excuse me," Jasper began, "but could you give me shelter? It is a rough night and I am wet and hungry. I am sorry to disturb you, but I saw the light from the road and knew that some one was living here."
"Come in," the girl at once replied. "We have a good fire and supper is all ready, such as it is," and she gave a little laugh as she moved back into the room. "We are strangers, too, and I do not know what the owner will say when he comes back and finds us here."
"Oh, I shall take care of you," Jasper returned. "He won't make a fuss when he sees me. If he does, we'll pitch him out of the door, eh?"
"I guess you could do it all right," and Betty smiled as she looked at him. "Mr. David will be so pleased to see you when he wakes. He likes good company."
"How do you know I am good company?" Jasper asked. "Maybe I'm as cross as two sticks."
"Well, then, you can't stay if you are."
"You couldn't put me out, could you?"
"Couldn't I, though? I guess you don't know me. Jim Goban once said that I could beat the devil with my tongue alone, and I guess Jim ought to know by this time what I'm like when I get my ginger up. But you're not that kind of a man. I can tell by your eyes that you're all right. If you're a little cranky now, it's because you're hungry. As soon as you get something to eat you'll be as sweet as molasses candy. Most men are that way."
The sound of voices woke old David, and sitting suddenly up he looked inquiringly around the room as if uncertain where he was.
"Don't be afraid, Mr. David," Betty assured him. "Supper's all ready, and we have a visitor as hard up as we are to share it with us. So come at once and let us get through."
Jasper was greatly amused at the way Betty took full possession of everything in the place. There was nothing forward about her, for she seemed more like a grown-up woman than a girl. He admired her confident and buoyant manner, as well as the thoughtful and deferential way she looked after the old man. The best on the table was for him and he had to be served first. She treated him sometimes as a child, but more often as a superior being. He noted the look of reverential respect in her eyes as she turned them upon him, and he wondered.
During the meal David acted the part of a perfect gentleman. His manners could not have been better had he been at a royal banquet instead of a most humble repast in a rude cabin. He asked Jasper no questions but talked merely about his experience upon the river that afternoon. He was somewhat anxious lest the owner of the cabin should return and resent their intrusion. Jasper endeavoured to allay his fears, reminding him that no one in his senses would be angry at people seeking refuge on such a night.
During the meal Betty had been observing Jasper quite closely, and once the semblance of a twinkle might have been detected in her eyes. She made no remark, however, as to what she was thinking, but while the men smoked when supper was over, she busied herself washing up the few dishes.
Under the soothing influence of the tobacco David became talkative. He was pleased to have so attentive a listener as Jasper, and unfolded to him his wonderful secret.
"Mr. David is going to be a very rich man some day," Betty remarked, as she paused in wiping the dishes.
"I am pleased to hear that," Jasper replied. "Money is the only thing that counts these days."
"Yes," the girl continued, "he is going to be very rich, and I am going to look after him. We shall have such a nice little house and be so very, very happy."
While Betty was talking, the old man fumbled in an inside pocket and brought forth several papers.
"See," and he held one of them up so the light of the lamp would fall upon it, "it is all here. You can understand my plan much better from this. Here is Break Neck Falls, and just below it the plant will be placed. From there power will radiate throughout the entire country. The whole thing is so simple that it is a wonder to me that it has not been thought of before."
"Isn't it great!" Betty exclaimed, looking over the old man's shoulder. "And to think that Mr. David worked it all out himself."
As Jasper sat and watched the two animated faces before him, he had not the heart to say a word that would in any way dampen their enthusiasm. Nevertheless, it seemed to him so ridiculous that old David's scheme could ever meet with any success. How was he to interest people who had the means to carry his plan into effect? But if the thought of doing great things would give him any happiness, he would be the last one to remove such a hope.
The storm raged outside and the wind beat against the window as the three sat and talked. The room was warm and cosy, and Jasper was pleased to have these two visitors on such a lonely night. Simon Squabbles and his meanness he forgot for awhile as he listened to Betty as she told him of her home life. It was just what he needed to take him out of himself, and to make him think of others. But when the girl spoke of Lois and how she had been with them that afternoon on the river, he became doubly interested.
"Oh, you must see her," Betty exclaimed. "She is the most wonderful person I ever saw. Isn't it strange that you have never met her!"
"Why, what chance have I had?" Jasper asked. "Anyway, she wouldn't want anything to do with such a rough fellow as I am."
"Indeed she would. She's not that kind; there's nothing stuckup about her. Maybe you'll see her passing some day. She might call, too, for she is so friendly."
"Call! What do you mean? How could she call upon me if I am miles away from this place?"
"Oh, but you won't be. You'll be right here where you have been for some time."
Into Jasper's eyes came a look of surprise, and he felt his face flush under the girl's keen scrutiny.
"There, I knew I was right," she laughed in glee.
"You thought you could deceive me, did you?"
"Why, how in the world did you know that I live here?" Jasper asked. "Did anybody tell you?"
"No, certainly not. But the Lord didn't give Betty Bean eyes and a mind for nothing. Who else would be poking around this place on a night like this but the owner? And didn't you know where your dry coat was when you came in? and your slippers? and your pipe and tobacco? and——"
"There, there, you have produced evidence enough, and I plead guilty," Jasper laughed. He was greatly amused at the girl's quickness. "You are not offended, are you, at the little joke I played upon you?"
"Oh, no, not all. But next time you do anything like that try it upon a man. A woman's eyes are pretty sharp, and it's hard to deceive her. Mine are, anyway."
David had listened to this conversation and slowly the truth dawned upon him that the owner of the cabin was before him.
"I wish to apologise, sir," he began, "for our rudeness in entering your house. It was only necessity which compelled us to do so, I assure you, and when I am in a position, I shall recompense you handsomely for the entertainment to-night."
"Please do not say a word about it," Jasper replied. "I am very thankful that you have been able to make use of my humble abode. I have enjoyed your company very much. But I think it is time for us to retire, as you need rest. The girl can use that room there, while you can sleep upon that cot."
"But what about yourself?" David inquired.
"Oh, I shall make a place for myself right by the stove. I shall be very comfortable there."
David at first refused to listen to such an arrangement, but Jasper was determined and claimed a host's privilege of making his guests as comfortable as possible. He sat for some time at the little table after David and Betty had gone to sleep. He dwelt long and carefully upon the rude plan the old man had shown him. The more he studied it, the more convinced he became that there was a great deal in it after all. But it would mean much money, and he sighed as he at length blew out the light, stretched himself upon the floor, and drew a great coat over his body.
OUT OF BONDAGE
During the night the storm broke, and the morning was fine and warm. After breakfast Jasper and David sat on a log outside and smoked. Betty was busy in the house, washing the dishes and tidying up the rooms. She hummed softly to herself as she moved lightly across the floor. She was anxious to get through as quickly as possible that she might take David back to Jim Goban's. She felt a little uneasy for his sake as she knew how angry his taskmaster would be with him. For herself she did not care. If Jim said too much, she could leave him at once. And yet she did not wish to go, for she felt that she must look after this old man who was so helpless and depended so much upon her for protection.
When her work was finished, she joined the men outside.
"It's time we were going, Mr. David," she began. "The river is calm now, and it will not be hard rowing back."
"I wish you could stay here all day," Jasper replied. "I shall feel very lonely when you go."
"But we shall come to see you again, sir. It has been so good of you to keep us. But Jim Goban will be angry if we do not hurry home. I know how he will rage as it is. The longer we stay the harder it will be for him," and she pointed to David.
Scarcely had she finished speaking ere a team was heard driving furiously along the road.
"Oh, it's Jim now!" the girl cried, "and I know he is mad by the way he is driving. He's stopping at the gate, too!"
Jim had seen them from the road, and having tied his horse to a tree, he made his way swiftly along the little path leading to the cabin. He was certainly in no pleasant frame of mind, and when he came near he gave vent to his feelings in coarse, brutal language.
David, rose and advanced to meet the angry man, hoping in some way to appease his rage, but in this he was mistaken.
"Ye old cuss," Jim shouted, "what do ye mean by runnin' away with that girl? Ye look as meek as a lamb but I guess ye're about as near a devil as they make 'em."
"He didn't run away with me," Betty sharply replied. "I ran away with him, that's the way it was, and you needn't get on your high horse, Jim Goban. You, yourself, would be the first one to run away with a girl if you could find one crazy enough to run with you."
"Shet up, ye fool," Jim shouted. "I didn't ask you to speak."
"I know you didn't," the girl calmly returned, "but that doesn't make any difference. This is a free country, isn't it? We didn't ask you to come here and make such a fuss, so you can go if you are not satisfied with our company. We're quite happy where we are."
"But I'm not goin' without that cuss," and Jim looked savagely at the old man. "You kin stay if ye want to with the guy who owns this cabin. There'll be a nice little story fer the gossips before long, ha, ha."
At these words Jasper started, while his face went white and his hands clenched together. He had listened in silence to Jim's tirade, and was only waiting an opportunity to explain how the old man and the girl happened to be at his place. But this pointed reference to him was more than he could endure.
"What do you mean by that statement?" he asked, taking a quick step forward. "Please explain yourself."
"There's nothin' to explain," and Jim gave a coarse laugh. "The neighbours will do all the explainin' that is necessary."
"No, that's not the thing. You made an insinuation, and it's up to you to explain before you leave. I have nothing to do with the neighbours; it's you I am dealing with now. Yon have insulted this feeble old man, and uttered words in reference to me and this girl. I want to know what you mean."
"I don't have to explain anything," Jim retorted. "You mind yer own business, and go to ——"
The oath had hardly left his lips ere Jasper with one lightning blow hit him squarely between the eyes. Jim reeled back, and then with a frightful oath leaped forward. But he was powerless before Jasper's superior training and soon he was sprawling upon the ground while his opponent stood bending over him.
"Had enough, eh?" Jasper asked. "If you want some more, get up. I haven't had half enough yet."
"Leave me alone," Jim mumbled. "You'll pay up for this. I'll fix ye."
"What's that you say?" and Jasper stooped lower, "You're going to pay me back? Well, then, I might as well fix you now, so you won't be able to do anything in the future. I might as well have my satisfaction when I can get it. So get up, or I'll knock the life out of your measley carcass."
Seeing that Jasper was in earnest, Jim scrambled to his feet and barely dodged the blow rained at his head.
"Fer God's sake, stop!" he yelled. "I won't do anything to ye. I promise on me word of honour."
"And, you'll be good to this old man?" Jasper demanded.
"Yes, yes," and Jim trembled in every limb. "I'll be good to him if ye don't hit me agin."
For a few seconds Jasper looked contemptuously upon the creature cowering before film. He felt that he was lying, and just as soon as he was out of his sight he would treat old David in a shameful manner, and he himself would be helpless to interfere. What could he do? he asked himself. A sudden idea came into his mind.
"What do you get for the keep of this old man?" he asked.
"Only a hundred," was the surly reply. "Not half enough."
"Well, look here, will you give him to me? I will take care of him for nothing."
Into Jim Goban's eyes came a look of surprise mingled with doubt. The man must surely be making sport of him, he thought. Then his natural cupidity overcame him. Here was a chance to get clear of the pauper and at the same time receive money for his keep. But how would the overseers of the poor regard such a transaction?
"Will you let me have him?" Jasper again asked.
"Give me twenty-five dollars and he is yours," Jim replied.
"Twenty-five dollars! No, not a cent. You will make out of it as it is; far more than you deserve."
"I can't do it, then," and Jim made as though to go. "Come on," he ordered David and Betty. "Let's git away from here."
"Hold on," and Jasper stepped, up close to him; "if you do not let me have the old man, I'll lay a charge against you for ill treating him, I saw enough this morning to satisfy any one. Let me have him, and you need have no more worry. Refuse, and you will regret it."
"But what will the overseers say if I give him up?" Jim whined.
"Oh, that can be easily settled. If they make a fuss, send them to me. But I guess they won't bother their heads."
Jim still hesitated. He longed to get more out of this bargain.
"Hurry up," Jasper demanded. "What do you say?"
"Oh, take the cuss, then. I wish ye joy of him. I'm off now. Come, girl, let's git home."
During the whole of this affair Betty had been a most interested and excited witness. She was delighted at the thought of David's freedom, and when Jim at last agreed to part with him she could hardly repress a cry of joy. It took her but a second to make up her mind, and she was ready when Jim spoke to her.
"I'm not going with you," she told him.
"Not goin'! Why, what d'ye mean?" and Jim looked his astonishment.
"I'm going to stay with Mr. David. He needs me more than you do. I'm going to take him to my own home. He will be happy there and treated like a gentleman."
"Ho, ho! so that's the game, eh? Treat him like a gentleman! Well, do as ye like; it's nothin' to me, so I'm off."
They watched him as he strode across the field, unhitched his horse and drove away.
"There, we're rid of him at last," and Jasper gave a sigh of relief.
"Isn't it great!" Betty exclaimed turning to David. "To think that you are going home with me!"
But the old man was looking at Jasper and did not hear the girl's cry of delight. In his eyes was an expression of gratitude. He tried to speak but words failed him, and tears flowed down his cheeks. Jasper was visibly moved, and turned suddenly to Betty.
"You are willing to keep him for awhile?" he asked.
"Yes. Mother will be so pleased to have him, and I will work hard to help her."
"Where will you work? At Jim Goban's?"
"No, I am through there. But I will get work somewhere. I will talk it over with mother. I think we had better be going now."
Thrusting his hand into his pocket Jasper brought forth several bills.
"Take these," he said, "they are all I can give you now, but you shall have more later."
"But you need the money yourself," the girl replied.
"Not as much as you will need it. So say nothing more about it. Good-bye. I hope to see you again."
Jasper watched the two as they moved slowly across the field and then disappeared down the road. He felt lonely when they were gone, and he sat for some time in front of the cabin lost in thought. At times he called himself a fool for what he had done. Why should he be burdened with that old man when he could hardly make his own living? And besides, he had no work to do, and had given away his last dollar. But notwithstanding all this, a secret feeling of satisfaction stole into his heart that he had helped old David and had taken him out of Jim Goban's clutches.
As he sat there the bell of the nearby church rang forth, and he realised for the first time that it was Sunday morning. He did not feel in a mood for attending service. He needed a long walk to think, and shake off the spirit of depression that was stealing over him.
Entering the cabin, he prepared a small lunch, and then closing the door he struck out across the field in the direction of Break Neck Falls. He wished to go there to view the scene where David planned to erect his plant and do such wonderful things. He smiled grimly to himself as he thought of the old man's delusion. Reaching the brow of the hill just where the trail started from the main road, he paused and looked down to his left. He could see clearly Peter Sinclair's house with the tall trees surrounding it. Bitter feelings came into his heart as he stood there. Over yonder lived a man who had the power to do so much good in the world. He could help old David and give him a comfortable home for the rest of his life. Why should some men have so much of this world's goods and others so little? he asked himself. Then he thought of Dick, and a contemptuous smile curled his lips. He recalled his feelings the previous day when he had watched the car go by and listened to the salutation of "Spuds."
And standing there his feelings suddenly underwent a marvellous change, for walking slowly across the field was Lois on her way to church. She was some distance away so Jasper was sure that she could not see him. As in the past so now he was forced to worship her afar off. It was not for him, poor and unknown, to draw any closer. The trees along the path she walked could bend above her and the bright flowers could smile up into her face. But for him there could be no such favours. He was half tempted to hasten back to church. There he could be quite near and watch her. He banished this thought, however, as he glanced down at his own rough clothes and coarse boots.
Jasper watched Lois until she disappeared from view behind a clump of birch trees. Then leaving the highway he walked slowly along the trail leading to the falls.
AT THE CLOSE OF A DAY
High up on the bank of the brook which flows down from Break Neck Falls Jasper sat leaning against the bole of a large tree. It was drawing toward evening and long slanting shadows were falling athwart the landscape. It was a hot afternoon and the shade of the old spruce was refreshing. By his side was a rough birch fishing rod, and nearby wrapped up in cool, moist leaves were several fair-sized trout. Jasper had not been fishing for pleasure, but merely for food, as his scanty supply was almost gone. The fish would serve him for supper and breakfast. Beyond that he could not see, for he had not the least idea what he was to do to earn a living, and at the same time assist old David.
Though the day was exceptionally fine, Jasper did not enjoy it as at other times. His mind was too much occupied with other matters. All things seemed to be against him in his struggle to advance. It had been the same for years, and now the climax had been reached. What was he to do? he had asked himself over and over again during the afternoon. Should he give up in despair? What was the use of trying any longer? He had seen young men succeeding in life who had not made any efforts. Money and influence had pushed them along. Dick Sinclair would soon join their ranks. He had lived, a life of indolence, and yet it would be only a short time ere he would be looked upon as a prominent citizen. The papers would speak of his ability and write glowing articles about whatever he did. Where was the justice of it all? he questioned. Did not real worth and effort amount to anything in life's struggle?
At length, tired with such thoughts, he drew forth from an inside pocket a small book. It was well marked and showed constant usage. It was a volume of Emerson's Essays, a number of which he knew almost by heart. It was only natural that the book should open at the essay on Self-reliance, for there the pages were most thumb-marked. His eyes rested upon the words: "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance." He read on to the beginning of the next paragraph, "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."
The book dropped from Jasper's hand and once more he gave himself up to thought. He knew how true were those words. He realised that envy is ignorance, and it was his duty to rise above it. Why should he spend his strength in envying others? He would conquer and make them envy him. Ah, that idea brought a flush to his face. He would trust himself, as Emerson said, and some day the very ones who looked down upon him and spurned him would come to him. How he was to accomplish this Jasper had no idea. But there was comfort in thinking about it, anyway, and he felt sure that a way would be opened whereby he could succeed.
He was aroused from his musing by the sound of voices. Looking quickly down toward the brook, he saw three people walking along the bank. He recognised them at once as Lois, Dick and Sammie. At first he was tempted to withdraw farther back among the trees lest he should be seen. He abandoned this idea, however, feeling quite certain that he would not be noticed where he was. Lois and Sammie were walking together, while Dick was a short distance ahead. What they were saying he could not make out, neither did he care. He had eyes only for the young woman, and he noted how beautiful she appeared as she walked with such an upright graceful swing. Was she happy in Sammie's company? he wondered. She was laughing now, and seemed to be greatly amused at something her companion was saying. Jasper noted all this, and then called himself a fool for imagining that she could ever think of him. No doubt she had already given her heart to the young man by her side, so he might as well banish her from his mind at once. He would go away and never see her again.
Acting upon this impulse, he was about to move softly among the trees and disappear. He had placed his book in his pocket and had reached for his fish when a cry of terror fell upon his ears. In an instant he was on his feet, peering keenly down to see what was the matter. In a twinkling he grasped the whole situation. Just across the brook a wall of rough rocks shelved upwards to the height of about twenty feet. Below, the water swirled and dashed over jagged boulders, receiving its impetus from the falls farther up stream. The path led along the top, and in some unaccountable manner Lois had slipped and fallen over the edge, and had gone swiftly down toward the rushing current below. She grasped frantically at everything on which she could lay her hands, and was only able to arrest her downward descent when a few feet from the water. And there she clung with the desperation of despair, while her two companions stood above half-paralysed with fear, and unable to assist her.
When Jasper saw Lois go down to what seemed certain destruction, he sprang forward and leaped down the bank as if shot from a catapult. Into the brook he recklessly dashed and like a giant forced his way across the current and around hidden boulders. At times it seemed as if he could not keep his feet and that he must be swept away. But that picture of the clinging woman nerved him to superhuman efforts, and slowly but surely he edged his way toward her. When a few feet from the base of the rock, he saw Lois relax and slip downward. Barely had she touched the water ere Jasper with a mighty effort leaped forward and caught her in his arms. Then in an instant they were both swept away. Fortunately, Jasper was a strong swimmer, and as they shot forward he was able to keep Lois' head above water, and work steadily toward the shore.
By this time Dick and Sammie had so far recovered from their fright that they were able to hurry down stream, and stand on the edge of the stream where the bank sloped gently to the water. Here they stood for several fearful seconds watching Jasper as he struggled toward them. They took special care not to wet their feet, but merely reached out and helped to pull Lois ashore and lay her upon the dry ground. More than that they were unable to do, and naturally turned toward Jasper for help.
"We must get her home at once," the latter remarked, kneeling by the side of the prostrate woman. "I am afraid she has been injured by the fall."
Fortunately, at that instant Lois opened her eyes and fixed them upon him in a dazed manner. Then she remembered what had happened, and sat suddenly up and looked around.
"My, I have given you a great fright," she said. "It was stupid of me to trip over that root."
"Are you hurt, Lois?" Dick inquired.
"I am somewhat bruised, that is all. I think I must have fainted and let go of the rock. How did I get here?"
"Oh, Spuds got hold of you and brought you out," Dick explained.
Lois at once turned her eyes upon Jasper who was now standing a few feet away. She noticed his drenched clothes, and also that there was blood upon his forehead.
"You are hurt," she cried. "You have struck your head."
"It's nothing, I assure you," and Jasper gave a slight laugh. "I must have hit it against a rock when we went down, that was all. It will soon get better. Never mind me, I am all right. But you must get home at once."
"Yes, come, Lois," and Sammie, speaking for the first time since the accident, stepped forward. "We must get you home at once. Never mind this fellow; he doesn't matter."
"Indeed he does," Lois emphatically replied. "He saved my life, and I can never thank him enough."
"But I would have saved you, Lois. I was just coming to rescue you when this fellow, who was spying upon us from the bushes, got to you first."
Lois never forgot the look on Jasper's face as the jealous Sammie uttered this insinuation. He drew himself up to his full height, and his eyes glowed with a sudden light of anger. She saw his lips move as if about to utter words of protest. Instead, however, he quickly turned, left them, and walking along the bank for a short distance reached a fordable place in the brook. He plunged into the water and after a brief struggle reached the opposite bank and disappeared among the trees.
Lois stood and watched him until he was out of sight. She was faint and greatly annoyed at Sammie's words. She knew now what a cad and a coward he really was, and was not even man enough to give credit to the one who had rescued her.
"Come, Dick," and she turned to her brother, "let's go home," was the only remark she made, as she took his arm and walked slowly along the path leading from the brook. She took no notice of the crestfallen Sammie, who trudged along behind wondering what had come over the young woman that she should act in such a strange manner.
Jasper could not fully understand the strange feeling that had come over him at Sammie's unjust insinuation. His first lightning thought was to knock the fellow down. Then he wanted to explain, to say that he had not been spying. But he knew that if he spoke he might get excited. No, it was better for him to leave at once, and let Lois think whatever she liked. He had saved her and that was all he cared for. But as he moved along through the woods, the few words she had said and the expression in her eyes acted as balm to his wounded feelings. He made up his mind, however, not to be caught in such a way again. He would take good care to keep away from the Sinclairs after that.
Going back to the place where he had left his fish, he picked them up and started down along the brook. He wished to get back to his cabin as quickly as possible that he might change his wet clothes. He was hungry as well, and he longed for a couple of the trout he had caught. He thought much of Lois, and wondered how she was getting along. He hoped that she had not been seriously injured and that she would not catch cold from her plunge into the water. He could not forget the feeling that had come over him as he had sprung forward and caught her as she was falling. He should remember that sensation for the rest of his life, no matter what happened.
Having reached the end of the trail, he moved swiftly along the main highway. He was almost to his cabin when he saw an auto by the side of the road. Something had evidently gone wrong, for two men were anxiously examining it. Jasper was about to pass when one of the men accosted him.
"Excuse me," he began, "but could you tell me if there is a hotel or any place where we can get supper? We have been stalled here for some time, and my chauffeur can't find what is the matter with the car."
"There is no hotel," Jasper replied, "and I know of no people who serve meals. But I have a place right near, and you are welcome to such accommodation as I have. It is very humble, and I warn you not to expect much. I have merely bachelor's quarters, and so am my own housekeeper."
"Thank you kindly," the man returned, "I am very grateful to you, and we shall be delighted to go with you, though we do not wish to trouble you too much. The trout you have make my mouth water. You evidently went in head-first after them," and he smiled as he observed the young man's wet clothes.
Jasper liked this man, and this impression was increased as they walked toward the cabin. He was well spoken, and so gentlemanly in manner that he found it quite easy to converse with him. Everything seemed to interest and please him, especially the cabin. He called Jasper a lucky fellow for having such a place where he could live so quietly away from all bustle and stress of the great outside world.
"It is quiet enough as a rule," Jasper remarked with a laugh, as he lighted the fire in his little stove after he had changed his wet clothes for dry ones.
"Have you lived here long?" the stranger inquired, as he stretched himself out upon the cot.
"Since the middle of May," was the reply. "But I expect to leave shortly. I'm out of a job now, and so must look elsewhere."
"What have you been working at?"
"Oh, anything that turns up."
The stranger was quick to note the almost hopeless tone in Jasper's voice as he uttered these words, and he studied the young man more closely.
"Where did you live before you came here?" he asked.
"At college. I was almost through when reverses came, and so I had to get out. I have been trying to earn enough to finish my course, but everything seems to be against me. I understand farming and naturally took to the land in preference to other work."
"What were you studying at college?" the man asked.
"I see. But was there not something you could have obtained along that line? Surely there must have been some opening."
Jasper made no reply. There was a reason, but he did not feel inclined to reveal his secret to a complete stranger, upon such a brief acquaintance.
THE SHADOW OF MYSTERY
When supper was over, the stranger lighted a cigar and stretched himself out upon the cot.
"This is certainly comfort," he remarked, as he watched Jasper clear away the dishes. "It is fortunate that we have found such hospitality. You do not have many such visitors, I suppose. It must be rather lonely for you here."
"Not as a rule, though I have been much favoured lately," Jasper replied with a laugh, and he told how his cabin had been taken possession of the previous night.
"Well, that was cool, I should say," and the stranger smiled. "Walked right in, did they?"
"But I didn't mind, for they were such a queer couple; a feeble old man, and a bright, smart girl of about sixteen. It was nice for me to have them here on such a stormy night. I would have been very lonely, otherwise."
"Where are they now?"
"They left this morning. It is a sad story. But as they are strangers to you, it would hardly interest you."
"Indeed it would," was the emphatic reply. "I am somewhat new to this country, and would like to find out all I can about the life of the people, especially in the country districts."
When Jasper had finished washing the dishes, he sat down upon a chair by the side of the cot, and lighted the cigar his visitor had given him. He then related the story of old David and Betty, taking care to say as little as possible about his own part in the affair.
"And so the old man is at the girl's home now, is he?" the stranger asked.
"Yes, for a time."
"But what will become of him?"
"I do not know for certain. I shall try to assist him all I can. But he will not go back to Jim Goban's if I can help it. It is the height of cruelty for such a refined man to live at a place like that. I do not know what the people of this parish were thinking about to allow him to be put there."
"Has he any relatives?"
"It seems not. He has been a puzzle to every one since the day he came here. He has been the laughing-stock of all the people because of a peculiar notion of his."
"And what is that?"
"He is in love with Break Neck Falls over there, and talks to it as if it were a human being. He believes that the time will come when people will obtain power and light from the falls, and the entire country will be greatly benefited."
"So that is why he is called crazy, eh?"
"Is there really a good reason for his idea? Is there a large waterfall?"
"Yes. I have been there several times, and consider it a good place for a plant. The old man has curious drawings of his entire plans, which I shall show you as he left them with me this morning. He must have forgotten them in his excitement, as I understand he guards them very carefully. People laugh at Crazy David for the jealous way he protects his treasure."
"Did you say his name is David?" the stranger asked.
"Yes. David Findley, so I believe. But he is only known as 'Crazy David' in this parish."
As Jasper uttered these words, the man lying on the cot rose suddenly to a sitting position, and looked keenly into the face of the young man before him as if he would read his innermost thoughts. With an apparent effort he checked himself, and with a slight laugh resumed his former position.
"I got worked up over the hard luck of that old man," he remarked. "It is a downright shame that he should be called crazy, and misunderstood. But, then, that has always been the way. Men who have done most for their fellow men have been looked upon with suspicion, and termed fools or madmen. May I see his drawings?"
For some time the stranger studied the rude lines old David had made upon the paper. Not the slightest mark escaped his notice, and he plied Jasper with numerous questions most of which the latter was unable to answer.
"I am fond of studying human nature," the visitor at length volunteered, as if to explain his remarkable interest in the old man, "and I must say that this is one of the most interesting cases I have ever come across. Here we have an old, poverty-stricken man, somewhat weak-minded, who has the vision and the enthusiasm of youth, combined with a child's simplicity. And he really believes that people of capital will carry out his ideas, does he?"
"Yes, he is sure of it."
"And he has no doubts as to the final outcome?"
"This scheme gives him considerable pleasure, I suppose."
"Yes, it is his very life. It cheers him and buoys him up, and makes him treat all discomforts as of the present, which will vanish when once he comes into his own."
"So he expects to get very rich, does he?"
"Oh, yes. He talks about what he will do when he has money. It certainly would be a great pity to take such a hope from him. I believe it would kill him at once."
For a long time they talked, and it was late when they went to bed, the stranger with the chauffeur in the adjoining room, and Jasper upon the cot. The latter found it hard to get to sleep, as many thoughts kept surging through his mind. He wondered why his visitor should take such a keen interest in the welfare of old David. He recalled, too, his sudden start when David's name was mentioned, and the excuse which had been given did not altogether satisfy him.
Jasper was awake early next morning, and had the frugal breakfast ready by the time his two visitors came from their room. As soon as breakfast was over, the chauffeur left to look after the car. The stranger then pushed back his chair, lighted a cigar, and handed one to Jasper.
"Please do not trouble about the dishes now," he began in a tone which somewhat surprised the young man.
"I have been thinking over what you told me last night, and am greatly impressed by the sad condition of that old man. You have no work in view, so I understand?"
"You are right," Jasper replied.
"Well, then," the other continued, "I wish to make a definite proposition to you on several conditions. I wish to employ you for one month, and will give you one hundred and fifty dollars, if that will be satisfactory."
It was Jasper's turn now to start, and look with astonishment at the man before him. Was he in earnest? he asked himself, or was he merely joking?
"Ah, I see you are astonished," and the stranger smiled, "but I assure you that I mean what I say, and to prove it, I shall pay you in advance."
"But what are the conditions?" Jasper stammered.
"They are three," the stranger replied after a slight pause. "First, that you are to take special care of that old man. How you are to do it I shall explain later. In the next place you are to ask no questions as to why I am doing this. And last of all, you are not to say who is doing this, neither to the old man nor, in fact, to any one."
For a few seconds Jasper looked at the stranger in a quizzical manner. He was wondering whether the man was really in his right mind.
"Isn't that a strange proposition to put to one you know so little about?" he asked.
"In most cases it might be," was the quiet reply. "But I have good reasons for what I am doing, and do not think that there will be any mistake. Are you willing to enter my employment for a month?"