Chapter XI. Curiosity and Anxiety
 

Never in the memory of the oldest inhabitant had Creekdale been so greatly excited. How the news first arrived no one could tell. But everybody seemed to have heard the rumor at once, and immediately there was much running to and fro among the villagers. The store was the principal place where the men gathered to discuss the report and to find out what was the latest bit of information. Men would find some excuse for leaving their work in the fields in order to drop into the store during the afternoon lest some choice morsel of news should be missed. Every evening they would gather there such as they had never done before in the summer months. It was always in the winter that they made the store their headquarters when work was not so pressing.

It was Andy Forbes, the storekeeper, who made it a point of keeping abreast of the times. What he didn't know of the events of the parish was not considered of any importance. He had a way of appearing to know more than he really did. But concerning this affair at the falls he was completely blocked.

"The whole thing stumps me," he acknowledged one night, after an animated discussion had taken place as to the purpose of it all. "I can understand about the engineers making the surveys to find out how much power can be obtained from the falls. That Light and Power Company in the city has been playing the hog too long, and robbing the people. It is something fierce what they charge. It is only natural that an opposition company should be formed to force down the prices. But the question is, Who is back of this new movement? and what has Crazy David to do with it?"

"And so you really think he knows something about at?" Ben Logan enquired.

"Sure. I could tell you a number of things but my position as postmaster compels me to be silent." This was merely another of Andy's methods, and it always impressed his hearers in a marked degree.

"But what about that chap who was working for old Squabbles?" Billy Dexter asked. "He seems to be mixed up somehow with the affair. He spends most of his time now at the falls with the engineers. I understand that he was the one who got the Petersons to take in Crazy David and that girl, Betty Bean."

"Oh, he's a queer one," Sandy Morton replied. "I met him the other day on the road and asked him what was going on up at the falls and who were the men back of the work? My, you should have seen the look he gave me. It was 'Mind your own business,' as plain as if he had said it in words. I ought to have knocked him down, for it was a dead insult."

"Better not try anything like that, Sandy," Ben Logan laughingly gibed. "He'd wipe up the dust with you in no time, if I'm not much mistaken. Anyway, he minds his own business, and that's something in his favour."

"I believe he's working for the bunch," the store-keeper volunteered. "I cashed a cheque of his some time ago, and---- But, there, I must not let out secrets."

While the people of Creekdale were consumed with curiosity at what was taking place at the falls, Peter Sinclair was becoming filled with anxiety, which increased as the days passed into weeks. Lois found it harder than ever to get along with him, and she always dreaded his home-coming every evening from the city. Occasionally he travelled on the river steamer, but as a rule Dick drove him to the city in the morning in the car and brought him back at night. This was to the young man's liking, as he found it lonely in the country where he missed his boon companions. Lois was glad that this was so as she could have the days free to follow her own inclinations. But she was always careful to have dinner ready when her father and brother arrived, and to make their home-coming as bright and pleasant as possible.

Whether Mr. Sinclair appreciated this attention Lois did not know, as he never made any comment. At times, he treated her as if she were merely a housekeeper, and not his own daughter interested in his welfare. He ate and slept in the house and spent his Sundays there. But apart from paying the bills, which, were always light, he left everything else to his daughter.

The night when the men of Creekdale were talking so earnestly at the store, Mr. Sinclair was late reaching, home. Dinner had been waiting for over an hour, and Lois was reading on the verandah, for it was a beautiful evening, with not a ripple on the surface of the river. She longed to be out there in her little boat where of late she spent so much of her time.

To almost any one else this home-coming would have been a great pleasure, especially if the day in the city had been trying. He would have found the cool, quiet house with such a daughter waiting to receive him most comforting. But with Mr. Sinclair it was altogether different. He did not seem to notice the neatly-set dining-room table, with its snow-white linen and the fragrant flowers so artistically arranged in the centre. Neither did he pay any special attention to Lois, who, clad in a simple white dress, sat at the head of the table.

Lois intuitively realised that there was something out of the ordinary worrying her father. He was more silent than ever, and took no part in the conversation between his son and daughter. Dick related to Lois his experience that afternoon with a party of his friends who had motored over to the Sea Breeze Park, and had luncheon at the Sign of the Maple.

"It's a dandy place," Dick exclaimed, as he passed his plate for another helping of roast lamb. "They certainly do serve things up in style, and it is no wonder that so many city people go there. But you could never guess who came in while we were eating."

"Any one I know?" Lois asked.

"Sure; a special friend of yours," and Dick gave a knowing grin. "He's been under your care for years. I guess you know Spuds all right."

Lois' face flushed at these words, but she looked calmly at her brother.

"What is there remarkable about seeing Mr. Randall at such a place?" she enquired. "Why shouldn't he go there as well as you or any one else?"

"Oh, nothing in that, only I thought maybe you'd be interested."

"So I am in a way, as I thought that Mr. Randall was up at the falls. He seldom goes to the city, so I understand, but attends strictly to business."

"I guess he was doing that all right at the Sign of the Maple. He seemed to be so busy that he forgot to eat."

"Was he alone?"

"Oh, no. There was the prettiest girl I ever set eyes on. I tell you Spuds is a lucky fellow to know such a beauty. He's gone up a peg in my estimation since I saw him with her. You should have seen her eyes, especially when she smiled at something her father was saying."

"Her father, did you say?" Lois asked. It was somewhat of a relief for her to know that there was a father present and that she was not alone with Jasper.

"Well, I suppose he was her father," Dick replied, "though I am not positive. He was a fine looking man, anyway. I'd like to get acquainted with him, for it's worth knowing such a chap who has a daughter like that. I wonder how Spuds happened to meet him. By jingo! I've got it," and Dick brought his fist down upon the table with such a bang that the dishes rattled. "I'll bet you anything that he has something to do with that Break Neck Falls affair, for old Tim Parkin, the big lumber merchant, was along, too. He owns some fine timber tracts up this way, and no doubt there was a deal on. That confounded mysterious company will need a great amount of lumber, if rumours are correct."

As Dick uttered these words his father looked up. His interest had been suddenly aroused, and for the first time he joined in the conversation.

"Did you say that Tim Parkin was at the Sign of the Maple?" he growled.

"Yes, Dad," the young man replied. "He was looking bigger and more prosperous than ever. He seemed mighty pleased over something."

"Did you near what they were talking about?"

"No, I couldn't make out anything as we were on the opposite side of the room."

"But you could see the girl, though. If your ears had been half as good as your eyes you would have heard what was being said."

"But any one can see much farther than he can hear," Dick protested. "You surely don't expect the impossible from me, do you?"

"I don't expect anything from you, sir," and Mr. Sinclair glared at his son. "I have long since given up expecting. All you care for is to have a good time riding around in the car, attending parties, and looking for the prettiest girls. If you were as much interested in business as you are in pleasure you would be of some use to me. But I guess you'll have to get a hustle on mighty goon, though, from the look of things. I won't be able to indulge you in your idleness much longer."

"Why, Dad, what do you mean?" Dick enquired. "You're not going to throw me overboard, are you?"

"Oh, no, I won't do it. But there are others who will, or I'm very much mistaken."

"Who--why?" the young man stammered. "I don't understand you, Dad."

"I mean that new Light and Power Company which has been formed. That is what will do it."

"Oh, is that all?" and Dick breathed a sigh of relief. "You certainly did give me a jolt. I thought you were speaking of something real. But that company's all a hoax, isn't it? Tommy Flowers said it was nothing but a scare to force you to cut your rates. The whole thing is so mysterious, so people say, that they consider it a put up job to force your hand. Why, the names of the men who form the company are not even known."

"H'm, that's all that people know about what is going on," Mr. Sinclair retorted. "That company is no hoax, mark my word. It means business of a most serious nature, and it is getting to work, too. Don't you live in a fool's paradise, boy. If you do, there will be a rude awakening, and sooner perhaps than you expect."

"What, have you heard anything of late, Dad?" Dick asked.

"Well, I have heard enough, and it is more than hear-say at that. A strong company has been formed to utilise the water of Break Neck Falls for light and power to supply not only the city but the entire country. The scheme is a big one, almost gigantic, I should say. And there seems to be plenty of money back of it, too. It is an English concern which has recently opened an office in the city.

"What is the purpose of such a company working here?" Dick questioned. "One would naturally think that a city much larger than ours would offer more inducements."

Mr. Sinclair pushed back his chair from the table, and lighted a cigar.

"That is one of the things which puzzles me," he at length replied. "Why a company with large capital should build a big plant at the falls to supply light and power in such a limited locality, is more than I can understand. I cannot see how it will pay even if it gets full control."

"Who is in charge of the city office?" Dick asked.

"A man by the name of Westcote. He is an Englishman, so I believe. He seems to have full charge of everything. He must have been the man you saw at the Sign of the Maple with Tim Parkin, for he has a daughter with him, who recently came to the city."

"But what has Spuds to do with the concern, and how did he come to meet this man Westcote?"

"He is evidently in his employ. But where he met him I do not know. Perhaps Lois can tell us," and he glanced around upon his daughter.

Lois suddenly started and looked keenly at her father as if she had not heard aright. This was the first time that he had ever hinted at any interest on her part in Jasper. A feeling of resentment welled up in her heart.

"Why should I know?" she enquired, "and what reason have you for asking me such a question?"

Mr. Sinclair, however, did not deign to make any explanation, but puffed away at his cigar. Lois took this as a direct insult and started to leave the table. She wished to get away by herself that she might think it all over.

"And where does old Crazy David come in?" her father asked. "What interest has he in that concern?"

"I have not the slightest idea," Lois impatiently replied. "Why do you expect me to understand such things?"

"But you should know. You see that old man every day, and are so interested in his welfare. Surely he must have told you something, and if he did not you should have tried to find out. Remember, you are my daughter, and my interest should be your first concern. Both you and Dick think that you have no responsibilities in life, and that I will always provide for you. If we are not careful that new company will put us out of business; so you two must do all you can to help me. Something must be done to cheek that concern and I want you to assist me. As it is, I am working in the dark and do not know what to expect next, or who are the ones working against me. Is it old David who is merely acting the part of a fool, or is it that young man who pretended to be a hired hand, who worked awhile for Simon Squabbles? There is something queer about the whole thing, and I am nearly crazy trying to puzzle it all out."

To these words Lois made no reply. She quietly left the table and made her way out of the house and walked down to the shore. Here she felt more at home, and the stillness which reigned over land and water soothed her, bringing a restful peace to her heart and mind.