Chapter XIII. The Disturbing Letter
 

It took Jasper longer than he had expected to get everything ready for his fall and winter lumbering operations. He found it hard to obtain as many teams as he needed, and greater difficulty still to procure the right kind of men. He offered good wages, but the choppers held out for more. Although such matters had been left to Jasper, yet he did not feel inclined to pay such wages as were demanded. At length, however, he succeeded in rounding together a band of men upon whom he felt he could depend, and he hoped in a few days to begin work upon the building of the cabins for the men and the stables for the horses.

Jasper often mused upon the peculiar situation in which he was placed. Everything seemed to depend upon him. The engineers, having made their surveys, had departed, leaving him in charge. The buying of the food supplies devolved upon him, though the bills were sent to the city office for payment. He had not seen Robert Westcote since the day he had luncheon with him at the Sign of the Maple. He had merely received specific information as to the various kinds of logs required, their length and size, as well as the places where they were to be hauled near the falls.

During these busy days Jasper had seen nothing of Lois. He knew that she visited the Haven regularly, and Betty always had a great deal to tell him about her. But somehow he had missed meeting her, and every time he left he felt disappointed, and made his way back to his lonely cabin which seemed to become more lonely as the days passed. Sometimes he would stand on the hill and look down upon the Sinclair house, hoping that he might catch a glimpse of her who was so much in his mind. He would scan the river, thinking he might see her out there. At length a great longing came upon him to see her before he should go into the woods. He knew that in a few weeks at the most she would be leaving for the city with her father, and then all hope of meeting her again for months would have to be abandoned. Somehow he could not bear the thought of her going. As long as she was near he could work better, and her presence in the place was like an inspiration. He felt that she knew what he was doing, and took an interest in his welfare. But in the city she would be far away, and taken up with so many interests she would have no time to give any thought to him.

All preparations had now been made for the lumbering operations and work would begin on Monday morning. Saturday found Jasper with nothing to do. He spent the forenoon in packing up his belongings to take with him into the woods. They were very few, and one small grip would contain his scanty library which he could not bear to leave behind. The next time he went to the city he intended to purchase a number of books upon which he had set his heart. He would have the long winter evenings for reading in the little cabin he was to erect for his own special use.

About the middle of the afternoon he decided to pay a visit to the Haven. He wished to see David and Betty before going away, and learn how they were making out. But the hope that he might see Lois was the real reason why he decided to go. Several times he had thought of visiting her at her own home. But as he had never been there and had received no invitation, he did not feel inclined to go where perhaps he was not wanted, and where his presence might be looked upon as an intrusion. He often upbraided himself for thinking about her at all. What hope had he that she would ever deign to look upon him with favour? What had he to offer her? He was poor, and he had no guarantee that his employment with this mysterious company would be permanent. In a few months he might again be seeking for work.

But no matter what resolutions Jasper made he could not banish Lois from his mind. It was she who several years before had unconsciously inspired him to launch out into the world and make something of himself. The thought of her had always urged him on when most depressed and discouraged. In his darkest hours of gloom he had seen her eyes filled with sympathy fixed upon him as on that day he had first met her and had fled disgraced from her father's house.

Such impressions were not easy to banish in an instant, and so as he knocked at the door of the haven he fervently hoped that Lois might be there. But as he entered David's room other interests engaged his attention. Hitherto all had been peace there. The old man was generally seated by the open window listening to the voice of his beloved falls. But now there was a distinct atmosphere of excitement. Mrs. Bean was there, and her face had a most worried expression. Betty had been crying, but seeing Jasper she brushed away her tears and sprang to her feet.

"Oh, Mr. Jasper," she cried, "isn't it awful! Have you heard the news?"

"What news?" Jasper asked in surprise, as he took a chair by David's side. "I haven't heard anything of special importance."

"It's about Mr. Sinclair, that's who it is. Just think, he wants to take all of our logs!"

"Take your logs!"

"Yes, that's what he's going to do. Mother got a letter from him and she has just read it to us. He says there is a mistake about the line between his place and ours, and that all those fine logs belong to him. He says he had a new line run last week and that the old line is wrong. He warns mother not to touch or sell a log there, for if she does he will sue her."

Betty was excited, and her words rushed forth like a torrent. For a few minutes Jasper could hardly believe that he had heard aright.

"Do you mean to tell me," and he turned to Mrs. Bean, "that what your daughter says is true? Surely there must be some serious mistake."

"I'm afraid not," was the reply. "There is the letter, which you can read for yourself."

It took Jasper but a few seconds to scan the brief note, and when he was through he sat staring at it as if he had not seen aright. Was it possible, he asked himself, that Peter Sinclair was stooping to such a contemptible piece of business? And to do it to a widow at that added to his meanness. What justification did he have for doing such a thing? he wondered.

"Was there ever any dispute about the line?" Jasper asked.

"None at all," Mrs. Bean replied. "A mistake was made years ago just after we were married. The surveyor started from the wrong rock up the brook, and the line then run cut off that part which Mr. Sinclair is now claiming. But it was rectified just as soon as my husband came home, and there has been no trouble since until now."

"Did Mr. Sinclair notify you that he was going to have a new line run?" Jasper enquired.

"No, I knew nothing about what was taking place until I received that letter."

"I wonder what suggested such a thing to him?" Jasper mused as if to himself. "There must have been something."

"Why, I think I know." Betty exclaimed. "I do not believe he ever thought about it until that day he was talking to Mr. David and me up the brook. We were near Pyramid Rock, and I told him about the mistake the surveyor had made years ago in running the line. He seemed to be very much interested then. Maybe that was what started it. Just think, it was all my fault. Oh, if I could only hold my tongue once in a while how much good it would do."

At that instant a knock sounded upon the door, and when Betty had opened it Lois entered. She looked surprised when she saw the visitors in the room, and at once noticed the worried expression upon Mrs. Bean's face.

"This must be your special afternoon for receiving company," she remarked with a smile, as she took David's hand. "It isn't often you have Mrs. Bean and Mr. Randall to see you on the same day, is it?"

"Mr. Randall has been here before," was the reply, "but this is the first time that Mrs. Bean has favoured me with a call. It was special business which brought her here to-day."

"You're not going to take Betty away from Mr. David, are you?" Lois asked, turning to Mrs. Bean.

"Oh, no; it is something far different from that. It is a very serious matter, I assure you."

"What, no one ill at home, I hope?"

"No. The boys were well when I left."

An awkward silence followed, and Lois felt that there was something of a private nature which these people were discussing, and that she had interrupted their conversation.

Jasper, who had risen to his feet as Lois entered the room, divined the thoughts which were passing through her mind, and came to her assistance.

"Let Miss Sinclair see the letter, Mrs. Bean," he suggested. "Perhaps it will explain matters better than we can."

Without a word Mrs. Bean complied with this request, and then leaned back in her chair with a deep sigh.

Much mystified, Lois ran her eyes over the letter, and as she did so her face underwent a marvellous transformation. The sunny expression departed and the colour faded from her cheeks, leaving them very white. The words seemed to fascinate her, and for a while she stood staring upon them. Then a tremor shook her body, and her right hand closed, crushing the letter within it. With a strong effort she regained her composure and turned toward the widow.

"I cannot understand this," she began. "I had no idea that my father would do such a thing. There must be some mistake. I shall go now and think it all over. Will you come with me, Mr. Randall? I would like to speak with you."

Without another word the two left the house and walked slowly down the lane leading to the road. Presently Lois stopped and turned to her companion.

"I am almost heartbroken over what my father has done," she began. "I have stood by him, and have tried to shield him all I could, but what is the use of doing so any longer?"

"Could you not speak to him, and induce him to change his mind?" Jasper asked.

"I can do nothing. He has even turned against me. He believes that I am his enemy, and that I know more about the affairs of the new company than I am willing to tell him. He is becoming more unbearable every day. Only last night he told me that I could leave him whenever I wanted to as he could get along better without me. He said that he did not want a traitor in his house. Oh, it is terrible! I cannot understand what has come over him. He was always hard and unsympathetic, but never like this."

"And will you go?" Jasper enquired.

"At first I thought I would. But after thinking it all over very carefully I have decided to remain with him. He needs me now more than ever. You have no idea what a helpless man he is. I shudder to think what would become of him should I leave him at the present time."

"But it might teach him a lesson if you should leave him for a while," Jasper urged. "It is not right that your life should be made so miserable."

He was looking into her downcast face as he said this. Her hands were clasped before her, and how he longed to seize them in his, and tell her all that was in his heart; how he would look after her and bestow upon her that love which her father denied her.

"I must not forsake him," was her low reply. "He is my father, and I must remain by his side. I promised my mother that I would. We shall leave for the city next week, and I dread the thought of going."

"But you will be able to forget much of your trouble there, will you not? Your social life will be so different, and----"

"Don't speak of such a thing," she interrupted. "You little realise how I despise so many of the social gatherings held there. What do they amount to? What good do they do? I enjoy amusements, but I think people should not make them the sole object in life. But that seems to me to be just what so many do. I want to be of some use in the world, and I believe the best way to be happy is to help others."

They were walking slowly along as Lois uttered these words. She spoke deliberately as if she had considered them carefully, and was not speaking under the influence of the moment.

"You are right, Miss Sinclair," Jasper replied. "I, too, have come to realise that he who thinks only of self finds unhappiness, while he who forgets self in seeking to help and uplift others will find the greatest joy."

The tone of certainty in his voice caused Lois to glance up into his face. She liked his words, especially as she felt they were real.

"And you were not always like that?" Lois asked.

"Oh, no. Only recently have I come to view things in a different light."

"What caused the change?"

"It was old David."

"Old David! I am surprised to hear you say that. I had no idea that he was able to influence any one except Betty Bean."

"He has influenced me as well, though it was all done unconsciously. I have been watching him closely for some time, and ever since I have known him he has been so happy. Even when he had not a cent and was sold to the lowest bidder, he did not lose heart. And why? Because he was thinking of others, and what his plans would do for the people both in the city and in the country. He was willing to endure poverty and taunts that those around him might be benefited. He was misunderstood, but it made little or no difference to him. He was happy in the thought that he was going to do good. To me he is a wonder, and I believe I can do no better than endeavour to follow his example and think less of myself. When I entered into the employ of this new company I did it merely for the money I was to get out of it, and a certain spirit of curiosity as to the outcome. Now, however, I am working with a far higher motive. I begin to see what a benefit this undertaking will be to the entire community and a blessing to so many, even though at present they may not realise it."

They had reached the gate leading to the Sinclair house by the time Jasper had finished. The colour had returned to Lois' cheeks, and her eyes were now filled with animation.

"Oh, I am so glad to hear you speak as you do," she replied. "It strengthens my own convictions to hear you express yourself that way, and I feel that I shall bear my part more bravely in the city than otherwise I would have done."

Jasper's pulse beat quicker at these words. So she would think of him, then, in the midst of her active city life. There was a great comfort to him in the thought.

"You will return next summer, I suppose," he remarked. "We shall miss you very much in the meantime."

"I hope to do so, and it will be something to look forward to. But you will surely come to see us when you visit the city. I shall be so anxious to hear all the news from Creekdale."

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," Jasper replied. "But I do not expect to leave the woods before spring. Even if business should take me to the city, I should not feel like making a social call. I should frighten you and your friends who might happen to be with you by my rough clothes and hard hands. Oh, no, it would not be proper, so I had better stay away."

Lois was not slow in detecting the note of bitterness an his voice as he uttered these words. She was aggrieved that he should think that his rough appearance would make any difference to her. And yet she understood his feelings. His sensitiveness would make him most unwilling to go to a place where he would be looked upon with ridicule, and at the same time embarrass the ones he happened to visit.

"You need not worry about your appearance when you visit me, Mr. Randall," and her eyes met his as she spoke. "I shall think all the more of you if your hands are rough and your face weather-beaten. I shall never be ashamed of the marks of honest toil. I must go now, but I shall expect to see you before spring."

To Jasper that was one of the happiest times of his whole life. He believed that she was interested in him, while the look in her eyes and the words she uttered were to him an inspiration during the following days and weeks of weary work in the woods.