Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter XVII. The Night Summons
All through the fall and winter Jasper had been very busy. The planning of the work, the overseeing of the men and ordering the supplies rested upon him alone. He felt the responsibility, and he was determined that as far as he was concerned the company should not be disappointed in the amount of logs cut and hauled to the large "brow" near the falls. He left the woods only when it was absolutely necessary for him to do so. Several times he was tempted to drive to the city when new supplies were needed instead of ordering them over the telephone from Creekdale. He longed to see Lois, even for a few minutes. Such a visit, no matter how brief, would be an inspiration to him in his arduous work. But he had always resisted the temptation, however, and had remained firmly at his post. His desire to see her and to listen to her voice was great. But he dreaded the idea of presenting himself at her home when she might have company, and he would feel so much out of place in their presence. It might embarrass Lois as well, so he reasoned, and it would be better for him not to go.
As Christmas drew near the men began to talk much about going home. Jasper listened to them but took no part in the conversation. All of the men had homes to go to. Most of them were married, and were looking forward with eagerness to the holiday with their families. But to Jasper the season brought little joy. No one was expecting him, and no face would brighten at his home-coming. There was only one place where he longed to go, and one person he desired to see. If he could but feel that her eyes would sparkle and her heart beat with joy at his presence, he would not have hesitated a moment. But he was not sure, and so he decided to remain in camp and keep watch over the supplies while the rest went home. If Christmas Day should be fine, he planned to pay a visit to old David in the afternoon. He might hear something about Lois from the Petersons, so he thought, and that would be some comfort.
Jasper lived in a small snug log cabin which he had built for his own special use. He wished to be alone as much as possible each night that he might think over the work for the next day, and also have quietness for reading. He had supplied himself with a number of books, and these were placed on a small shelf fastened to the wall. So long had he been denied the privilege of good literature that he now came to the feast like a starving man. Hitherto, his mind had craved only solid works of the masters. But of late he had turned his attention more to books of romance, for in them he could find more heart satisfaction than in the others. How he revelled in the outstanding characters of Dickens, Scott, Thackeray and Kingsley. But it remained for Charles Reed to completely captivate him in "The Cloister and the Hearth."
He was reading it this Christmas Eve as he lay stretched out upon his cot. The lamp was at his head and the camp stove was sending out its genial heat. It was a scene of peace and comfort. But Jasper thought nothing of his surroundings as he lay there, for he was lost in the tragic story of Gerard and Margaret. Nothing had ever moved him as much as the sad tale of these two unfortunate lovers. His disengaged right hand often clenched hard as he read of the contemptible ones who plotted to separate them. But how Margaret appealed to him. What strength of character was hers, and how true and unselfish was her love through long, trying years.
At length, laying aside the book, he began to meditate upon what he would do under like circumstances, if Lois' love for him were as deep as that of Margaret for Gerard. He blamed Gerard for what he considered weakness on his part. Why did he not arouse himself and throw off the shackles which bound him? What right had any Church to separate two loving ones, and make their young lives so miserable?
While thus musing Jasper fell asleep. He was awakened by a loud rapping upon the door. With no idea what time it was he sprang to his feet, hurried across the room and threw open the door. As he did so he saw a young lad standing before him. His face was flushed and he was panting heavily as if from a long run.
"Hello! Who are you? And what do you want here at this time of the night?" Jasper demanded.
"I'm Steve Bean, Betty's brother," the boy replied as he stepped briskly into the cabin. "My, that was a hard run!" he added. "I left home jist a quarter to twelve an' I don't think I've been over twenty minutes comin'."
"Is it that late?" Jasper asked in surprise, as he drew forth his watch. "Why, it's half-past twelve! I didn't think I was asleep that long. But, say, boy, what do you want at this time of the night?"
"I want ye to go fer the doctor as quick as ye can."
"Go for the doctor!" Jasper gasped. "Who's sick? Your mother?"
"Oh, no; she's all right. But there's a man at our place who is pretty bad, I guess. I found him last night on that old cut-off when I was visitin' my snares. He had a sprained ankle, an' couldn't walk. I got the steers and toted him to our place. Guess he got a bad cold while he was layin' there in the snow, fer he took awful sick in the night with chills, an' ma's afraid he'll die. She kept Jimmy to help her an' sent me to git you to fetch the doctor."
"But why didn't you get one of your nearby neighbours to go?" Jasper enquired. "You have lost valuable time already."
"H'm, I guess you don't know our neighbours. They're kind enough an' would do all they could. But their horses are about as slow as oxen. So ma says, 'Steve, you jist hustle fer Mr. Jasper. He's got a horse that goes like a streak of lightin'. He'll go all right when ye tell him you're Betty's brother.' So I took the short-cut through the woods, an' here I am. Will ye go?"
"Sure," Jasper replied as he reached for his coat and hat. "But who is that man? And where did he come from?"
"I don't know; never saw him before. He's quite oldish, though."
"Didn't your mother ask him what he was doing there alone in the woods?"
"No; she didn't like to ask him. She thought maybe he was goin' to Camp Number Three, which is not far from our house, an' on our land, too."
Jasper paused in the act of lighting the lantern and looked into Steve's face.
"Why, didn't you go there for help?" he asked.
"What! go to them skunks fer help?" and the boy clenched his fists. "Never! They're stealin' our logs an' we can't do nothin'. De'ye think we'd ask old Pete Sinclair's men to do anything fer us? We'd die first. Jimmy an' me's been waitin' fer some time fer old Pete to come our way. An' when he does----" Steve's clenched right fist shooting out straight before him supplied his lack of suitable words to express the depth of his feelings.
An idea suddenly flashed into Jasper's mind with a startling intensity.
"What does that man look like?" he demanded in a voice which surprised the boy.
"Oh, he's somewhat oldish, as I told ye; rather thick-set; has a heavy moustache, an' looks as if he has always had plenty of good things to eat. I don't know as I can tell ye much more about him."
Jasper had blown out the lamp and opened the door before Steve had finished speaking. He was now very impatient to be away. There was only one man, he felt quite sure, who would be prowling along that lonely trail on a Christmas Eve, and that man would be Peter Sinclair. It was of Lois he thought and not the sick man as he hurried to the stable, harnessed Pedro, and made him fast to the sleigh.
"You go back home, Steve," he ordered, "and tell your mother that I have gone for the doctor."
Pedro did not like the idea of being taken out of his warm stable at such an hour of the night. But when once upon the firm road he gave his noble head a toss and sped along at a fast clip. He had not been driven much of late and was in excellent form. It was a clear star-light night, with not a breath of wind astir. Jasper not only enjoyed the ride in the bracing air behind such a fast horse, but the feeling that he was doing it for Lois' sake filled him with satisfaction. How he longed to speed straight to her with the message. But, no, that would not do. Her father, he believed, was in need and must be cared for first.
It took him somewhat over an hour to reach the doctor's house and to arouse him from sleep. The latter was in no enviable frame of mind when he had admitted Jasper and learned the object of his visit.
"Confound it all!" he growled. "What do people mean by getting sick in the night! Why don't they take the day for it! But I don't see how I can go now. My horse threw a shoe coming home last night, and I wouldn't think of putting her on the road without being properly shod."
"I'll drive you there," Jasper replied, "and bring you back as well. But we must have you to-night, and at once. If he is the man I think he is, you will not regret going."
"Who is he? Any one I know?" the doctor queried, now somewhat interested.
"Yes, you know him. But I shall not mention his name until I am certain. Will you come?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose so," the doctor replied as he moved wearily away to get ready for the journey. "I have had so many night calls of late that I am tired out, and was hoping to have a good rest, especially on Christmas Day."
In less than half an hour Pedro was again bounding nimbly over the road, this time headed straight for Mrs. Bean's ten miles off. Jasper believed that the doctor slept most of the way for he never uttered a word from the time they started until they drew up before Mrs. Bean's house.
The sound of the bells brought Jimmy to the door, and asking him to stable Pedro and give him something to eat, Jasper accompanied the doctor. He was anxious to find out as soon as possible whether his surmise was correct about the sick man. If so, he had his mind all made up what he would do, and there was no time to be lost.
Mrs. Bean was waiting at the door to receive them, and led the way at once into the little sitting room which was warm and cosy.
"Where's that man?" the doctor asked as he threw off his coat. "You might have waited until morning before sending for me. It's no joke to come so far on a cold night like this."
"But I was afraid he would die, sir," Mrs. Bean replied. "He is a very sick man. He's in there," and she pointed to a door which led from the sitting room.
After warming himself for a few minutes before the stove, the doctor entered the small bedroom closely followed by Jasper. A shaded lamp with the wick turned down stood on a little table by the side of the bed. Though the light was dim, it was enough for Jasper to recognise the man lying upon the bed.
"You know who it is," he remarked in a low voice as he turned to the doctor.
"Good heavens! it's Peter Sinclair!" was the astonished exclamation. "What in thunder is he doing here?"