Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter XIX. Developments
Lois was destined to remain at Mrs. Bean's during January and February. She camped, as she called it, in the room next to the small one occupied by her father, and thus she was always near to wait upon him day or night. Mr. Sinclair's recovery was slow, and at first the doctor almost despaired of his life. It was a bad case of pneumonia brought on by his becoming over-heated while walking along the cut-out, and then getting chilled to the bone lying on the snow. To Lois it was a most anxious time, and during the first two weeks she seldom went out of the house. When at last her father was able to be left alone for a while she spent an hour or so out of doors with Dora and Stephen.
It was a wonderful winter to the Bean family. Never before had Mrs. Bean known what it was to be free from the oppressing spectre of want. No longer was she forced to worry about household supplies; neither was it necessary for Steve to go to the store each week with his basket of eggs and a few rolls of butter. He carried, instead, an order from Lois, and Andy Forbes was only too willing to deliver the goods in person instead of letting Steve carry them as hitherto. Jimmy was working in the woods with Jasper, and every Saturday night he brought his wages home to his mother. Thus the Bean household was well supplied with sufficient food and the widow's heart was made glad.
To some city people the life in a country house, especially in the winter time, would have been very lonely and trying. But with Lois it was different. She thoroughly enjoyed the change, and as soon as she was able to leave her father alone for a few hours she would spend the time out of doors with Dora and Stephen. To them she was a marvellous woman, and they fairly worshipped her. What fun they had coasting down the big hill over the firm crust, and what snow-houses they made when the snow could be packed and moulded into any shape. But to Lois the best enjoyment of all was to accompany Steve on his rounds to his rabbit snares. The forest was a revelation to her. She knew it well in summer, but nothing about its winter moods, such as the weird silence of a frosty morning, broken only at times by the pistol-like report from a distant tree. It startled her at first, and she stood spell-bound listening to its reverberation up and down the long woody reaches.
"The frost does that," Steve explained. "I've heard our house do the same thing on a cold night. Ma says it's drawin' the nails."
Lois liked the woods best when a stiff wind was abroad. She enjoyed hearing it roaring overhead, bending and twisting the tops of the pointed trees. The forest then seemed to be alive, and not so inanimate as on a cold frosty morning. It was more companionable in such a mood, and it seemed to her like a wonderful organ with all the stops out under the control of some mighty unseen master. It was a pleasure to her to stand and listen to the varying sounds. But Steve and Dora knew nothing of such feelings and kept her constantly on the move. The tracks of the rabbits or those of a fox thrilled them far more than Nature's mysterious melodies.
It was a Saturday afternoon such as this that Lois was with Steve and Dora on their regular rounds. They led her this day farther than usual to some new snares that Steve had set. At length they came out upon the trail leading from Mrs. Bean's to the falls, travelled chiefly by Jimmy. Lois was standing on the path with Dora by her side waiting until Steve had set one more snare in a good place he had spied. She presented a picture of perfect health and beauty as she stood there, with the rich blood mantling her face. Jasper was sure that he had never seen any one so lovely as he appeared suddenly in sight around a bend in the trail. He was walking fast with an axe over his shoulder, but he stopped in his tracks when he saw Lois before him. At first he was half tempted to turn back, lest his presence might not be desired. He did not wish to have the appearance of spying upon those before him. But before he had time to decide, Dora saw him.
"Oh, look," she cried, "there is Mr. Jasper."
Startled more than was her wont, Lois quickly turned and her eyes rested upon the young man who was now hastening forward.
"Pardon me," Jasper began, "I am so sorry that I have frightened you."
"Oh, it is not as bad as that," Lois replied with a smile. "I was not frightened, only startled. Anyway, we are glad to see you, for you have deserted us of late."
"It was not my fault, I assure you," Jasper explained. "We have been so busy that I have had no time to come, though I sent Jimmy often, to enquire about your father. I have had to go to the city every Saturday since I saw you last and never got back until late Sunday night. The company is pushing us hard, and now that the portable saw-mill has arrived there is no let-up. To-day I was cruising the woods for some special trees the company wants, and as I came so near I made up my mind to drop in and see for myself how you are all making out."
"And you will come and have tea with us?" Lois asked.
"Yes, if I shall not be in the way. It will be a great change for me."
"We shall be delighted to have you, and I know my father will be pleased to see you, for he gets so lonely at times. He is sitting up now, and likes to have some one to talk to. He has changed a great deal since his illness."
By this time Steve had finished setting his snare, and then they all started homeward. It was quite an event to have a visitor, so Dora and Steve rushed on ahead to tell their mother to set an extra place "fer company." Lois and Jasper had no inclination to hurry. Their hearts were happy in each other's company, and they walked slowly along the trail not talking about anything in particular, and laughing when there was really nothing to laugh about.
Mr. Sinclair was sitting in a big, cosy chair before the fire as Lois and Jasper entered the room. Notwithstanding the change that had come over him and his desire for conversation, he looked upon his visitor with a reserved suspicion.
"You belong to that new company, eh?" he questioned.
"Only as an employee," Jasper replied. "I am merely working for wages."
"H'm, is that so? I thought you had an interest in the concern."
"In a way I have. I am interested in getting out as many logs and poles as I can this winter. But apart from that I am nothing as far as the company goes."
"But you know all about their plans, I suppose, and what they intend to do?"
"Oh, yes, I naturally understand that they intend to supply light and power to the city and the surrounding country, but further than that I know nothing."
"Don't you know who compose the company?"
"No, I have not the least idea."
"Well, that's queer," and Sinclair shifted uneasily in his chair. "Perhaps you can tell me, though, where Crazy David comes in? He seems to be somewhat connected with the whole affair."
"He supplied the plans, so I believe. They paid him, and made him Honorary President of the company."
"And so that's all you know about it?"
"Certainly. The whole affair is as much of a mystery to me as it is to you."
"Confound it all!" and Sinclair stamped his right foot upon the floor. "I'd like to know what's coming over people, anyway. Things are getting so mysterious these days that I'm about crazy trying to puzzle matters out."
"Don't try, father, dear," Lois soothed, placing her arms about his neck. "You must not make yourself worse by worrying over such things now. Supper is all ready, and Mrs. Bean is waiting for us, so let us forget all about such matters for the present."
Jasper stayed for a while that evening, and before leaving he made arrangements with Lois to take her to church in the morning, and then they would stop at the Haven for dinner. That was the beginning of a most delightful time for Lois and Jasper. Every fine Sunday he called for her, and pleasant were the drives they had together.
When Mr. Sinclair was well enough he moved with his daughter into his own house. Lois and Betty had spent several days getting it in order and thoroughly warmed. It was really a comfort to be here, and for the first time he expressed his pleasure to Lois.
"This is a comfort," and he gave a sigh of relief as he sat in a big chair before a bright open fire. "How large and roomy this house seems after living for so long at Mrs. Bean's. But she was good to us and I hope you sent her that money."
"For the logs on her place?" Lois asked.
"Yes. I made out a cheque the night I took ill, but she never got it. This new one is larger and will somewhat pay her for the trouble we have been to her as well as for the logs."
"I mailed it to-day, father, and Mrs. Bean should get it to-morrow."
"That is good. I feel more contented now. But, see here, Lois, you will be very lonely now with only me to talk to. Isn't there any one who could come and visit us for a while? It might brighten us both up."
"I expect Margaret," Lois replied. "She said she would be delighted to come as soon as we moved into our own house. Dick, you know, will bring her in the car just as soon as the roads are settled. It will be so nice to have her."
"Do you think Mr. Randall will forsake us now?" Mr. Sinclair asked.
"Why, what makes you think that he will?" Lois replied.
"I was afraid he might, that's all. I like that young man. But he has peculiar ideas, and will not go where he thinks he is not wanted."
Lois did not reply to these words. She was sitting by her father's side sewing, and she went on calmly with her work. But she was thinking of the great change that had come over her father since his illness. He was so gentle and considerate, and was more companionable than she had ever known him to be. It caused her great joy of heart, and she was so thankful now that she had not left him when he had made life so miserable for her. She was thankful as well that he liked Jasper and welcomed his visits to the house. She, too, had wondered if he would come as often as he did to Mrs. Bean's. When Margaret arrived he might think that he was not needed and would stay away.
Jasper, however, did not stay away. He came as often as before, even after Margaret arrived. He now believed that Lois cared for him and looked forward with pleasure to his visits. Never before had the Sundays seemed so far apart. She was his inspiration in all that he did and she was ever in his mind throughout the week. How delightful it was to listen to her playing upon the piano, and then when she and Margaret sang, as they did so well together, it seemed to him as if heaven had opened and poured upon him its greatest joys. His past trials were all forgotten, and he did not worry about the future.
One balmy spring Sunday evening they were all gathered around the piano as usual singing several of their favourite hymns. Lois was playing, and the soft light from the shaded lamp fell upon her face. Jasper standing near thought he had never seen her look so beautiful. It seemed to him that her face was almost radiant and her eyes glowed with an intense light of holy fervour. Everything in that room spoke of peace and harmony. The singers were happy in one another's company, and no worry troubled them.
As they sang, the shades of night deepened over the land and brighter the light seemed to shine through the large window facing westward. A man standing just outside watched all that was going on within the room. He had approached cautiously and now stood back far enough from the window that he might not be observed should any one happen to look in his direction. To all outward appearance he might have been drawn there out of mere curiosity or by the sound of the music. His lean, smooth-shaven face betrayed nothing, and his steel-grey eyes which rested alternately upon Jasper and the fair young player were expressionless. Well it was for Lois' peace of mind that she did not see that face out there in the night, for it was the same face which had been haunting her for months.