Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter XXII. In the Path of Destruction
It was only natural that the people of Creekdale should have been greatly excited over the progress made at the falls. They watched everything with the keenest interest which reached its highest point on the night of David's arrival home. To see the road so brilliantly illuminated was both wonderful and puzzling. They all knew that it was done for "Crazy David's sake," and they could not understand why such a fuss should be made over his return to the place.
"It beats me," Andy Forbes remarked to a number of men gathered before the store. "I'm mighty glad to have the lights there for they make things around here as bright as day. But why is it done? What has Crazy David got to do with it? You would think he was a king coming home instead of a half-cracked old man."
"But he supplied the plans, didn't he?" one of the men asked in reply.
"The plans be jiggered!" and Andy gave a contemptuous toss of his head. "What value do you suppose were his plans? I don't believe the company ever looked at them."
"There must be something, though," Ned Travis replied. "David's living in luxury now, and if the plans were not back of it, I'd like to know what is. It isn't natural for a big company with unlimited means to throw away money on an old man like that just for charity."
"How's Jim Goban feeling these days?" Andy asked. "I haven't seen him of late."
"He's a very sick man," Billy Goban answered, at which they all laughed. "He curses himself every minute day and night for letting Crazy David out of his clutches. He believes that if he had kept him he would have come in for a big share of David's good luck."
"Serves him right," Andy mused as he gazed thoughtfully at the array of lights before him. "He should be ashamed of himself, and so should we for that matter for selling that old man to the lowest bidder. It'll be the last time such a thing takes place in this parish if I can help it, and I guess I can. It's most degrading, and should be stopped."
While the people of Creekdale were intensely aroused over the marvellous progress of the Light and Power Company, the world beyond was becoming much interested in what was taking place. The day after David's arrival home the city papers devoted considerable space to the developments at the falls. They told about the mysterious company and the old man who had supplied the plans. They gave a most vivid account of the lighted way and the examples of the harnessed power at the Haven. They, like the people of Creekdale, could not understand why such a fuss should be made over David. They hinted that there was some mystery back of it all, the solving of which would be watched with considerable interest.
But the papers had much more to say. They spoke of the great benefit the city would receive from cheaper light and power, and how the new company would lower the rates, and perhaps force the city company out of business altogether. They deemed it a day of great things when people would not be compelled to pay such prices as hitherto, and how industries of all kinds would increase and flourish. A table of rates was appended showing the difference between the rates of the old company and the new.
It was with much satisfaction that David read these accounts to the captain as they sat out upon the verandah. He was a happy man that day, and when he was through with his reading he leaned back in his chair and remained silent for a long time. The captain watched him somewhat curiously as he puffed away at his pipe. Presently he took the pipe from his mouth and allowed it to go out, which was a most unusual thing for him. He even stared at David as if he had never seen him before. What his thoughts were he kept to himself, but he observed the old man now more closely than ever and studied his face most carefully.
They had been sitting on the verandah for about half an hour, when Sydney Bramshaw strolled up to the house, with his easel under his arm. He looked none the worse for his experience with Jasper and was most affable as he accosted David, who at once introduced him to the captain.
"You have a beautiful place here, sir," he remarked to the invalid. "I have been fascinated with the scenery and have done considerable work since my arrival. May I have the privilege of sketching this delightful cottage? It will make a fine picture, I am sure."
"Sketch away all you like," the captain replied. "It is a beautiful spot, if I do say it, and it can't be beat anywhere."
From the moment the captain had set eyes upon the artist he was sure that he had seen him before. Just where it was he could not at first recall, but suddenly it flashed into his mind, and with it a train of thoughts which excited him more than was his wont. He looked at David and then at the artist, and for a moment he closed his eyes as memories drifted upon him. What was this man doing here? he asked himself. He longed to question Bramshaw, but desisted, determined to await future developments. Nevertheless, he was very quiet during the rest of the day, which made his wife and Betty think that he was not well.
"You are not sick, are you?" Mrs. Peterson asked.
"Not at all," was the reply. "I am only thinking."
"Maybe he's got something in his head just like Mr. David," Betty suggested.
"Maybe I have, girl," the captain laughed. "But I'm afraid the thing that I've got won't make as much money as his. Where is Mr. David now?"
"He's with that artist over there, watching him sketch this house. He likes the man, for he talks to him so much about the falls. I don't like him; his face frightens me."
The captain made no reply to these words but gazed meditatively out over the fields long after Mrs. Peterson and Betty had left him. He was trying to piece together a number of fragmentary incidents which were revolving in his mind, and to ascertain how they were related.
"I'm sure 'twas on that trip," he muttered, "But darn it all, why can't I remember what he said. He was always talking and boasting about one thing and another. Hello, by jingo, I've got it!" and the captain gave such a whoop that both Mrs. Peterson and Betty came running from the kitchen to see what was the matter.
"It's nothing," the captain growled, disgusted with himself for attracting attention when he wanted to be alone, "I was just thinking, that's all. Can't a man whoop when he wants to without everybody rushing around him like mad?"
"It all depends on what kind of a whoop it is, Robert," his wife replied. "We couldn't tell whether you had gone out of your mind or had fallen off the verandah."
"It's that thing in his brain which did it, Mrs. Peterson," Betty explained. "Mr. David acted queer sometimes, though he never hollered out. It must be something great, Captain," she added, "which made you yelp like that."
"It certainly was, girl," and the captain smiled. "I feel better now, though, so you women needn't worry about me."
The next morning David told Betty that he had made up his mind to visit the falls. He said that he wished to see for himself the wonderful changes which had been made there. Betty was delighted and at once set to work to prepare the luncheon they were to take with them.
"We'll find a nice cosy place along the brook and have a picnic there," she told Mrs. Peterson.
"I'm afraid there will not be many cosy places," was the reply. "You must be prepared for great changes up the brook."
David and Betty were like two children off for a holiday as they left the Haven and walked gaily down the lane toward the main highway. It was a perfect morning, and the perfume of clover from the expansive meadows scented the air. Birds were darting here and there or twittering from the branches of the trees. A short distance from the road, and partly concealed, a white tent nestled among the trees, though no sign of the artist was to be seen. Betty breathed a sigh of relief when they were past. She did not wish to see Bramshaw, to whom she had taken such a violent dislike. She wondered where he was at that time of the morning. Perhaps he was still asleep, she thought, for she knew that he prowled about late at night.
The tent was a small one, such as is generally used by campers. It was in a beautiful situation, and it was so placed that it commanded an excellent view of the Haven and the lane leading to it. It was a common occurrence for people from the city to camp along the river during the summer months, and people did not wonder about this one among the trees. They all knew that Bramshaw was an artist of some note, and they felt rather pleased that he had come to Creekdale to obtain some pictures.
"I am glad we didn't meet that artist this morning," Petty remarked after they had left the tent out of sight.
"I cannot understand your dislike to the man," David replied. "He has been so civil to us both, and he is very fond of hearing about the work at the falls, and how the whole community will be benefited."
"I can't help it, Mr. David," and Betty twirled the sunbonnet she was carrying in her hand, as was often her custom. "He may be all right, but I don't like him. I wish he would go away and never come back. Isn't it strange how some people spoil everything? We are so happy this morning because we are going to the falls together, and yet as soon as I think of that man I shiver. I don't understand it at all."
"You'll get over it in time, Betty," David replied. "But, see, what a change they have made in our path. Why, it's a regular road now."
"I don't like it one bit," Betty protested. "It isn't half as nice as it was before. I hope they haven't touched my rock. If they have, somebody's going to get a big scolding."
Talking thus and passing remarks upon everything they saw, the two moved slowly along the newly-made road. Several freighting teams passed them and the drivers looked with interest upon the old man and the bright-faced girl.
"They all know you, Mr. David," Betty remarked. "Did you notice how the men lifted their hats!"
"They did it to you, girl," was the reply. "Why should they do such a thing to me?"
"Because you are great, that is why. They all know of the wonderful thing you had in your head. Oh!" she suddenly exclaimed, stopping short in her tracks.
"What is the matter?" David asked.
"They have taken away my rock! Look, there are only little pieces of it left."
"They needed it, no doubt, for the works up there, Betty. You must not mind when it has been put to such good use."
Betty, nevertheless, felt badly, and for a while she ceased her chattering and walked along quietly by her companion's side. At length they came to a place where the road left the path and swung to the right.
"Isn't this nice!" Betty exclaimed. "Some of our dear old path is left, anyway, and we can follow it and forget that any changes have been made."
The path ran close to the brook and after they had followed this for several hundred yards through a growth of young birches and maples, they came to a clearing which had been made since they were last there. Above them was the road, and on its lower side was a large pile of big poles ready to be rolled into the brook.
"I wonder what they left them there for?" David enquired.
"Oh, I know," Betty replied. "Mr. Jasper told us, don't you remember, that they left a lot of poles to be used along the brook. They must be the ones."
"So he did tell us that," the old man mused. "Your memory is better than mine. Suppose we sit down here and rest a while. That walk has tired me."
"There's a nice place right in front of that big stump close to the brook," and Betty pointed with her finger. "We can rest there and eat a part of our lunch."
When they had reached the place Betty began to unpack the basket. First of all she spread down a white cloth, and then laid out the sandwiches and cake. Then she paused, and a look of dismay overspread her face.
"We forgot to bring anything to drink!" she exclaimed. "I had the milk all ready in the bottle and came away without it. What shall we do?"
"Oh, never mind," David replied. "We can drink some of this brook water, can we not?"
"No, it's nasty. It's too warm. I know," and she reached for two tin cups. "There's a nice cool spring just up the brook. I have often got water there. You keep off the flies from the food. I won't be a minute."
Leaving David, Betty hurried up along the edge of the brook until she reached the spring bubbling out of the bank. Filling the cups she made her way back as carefully as possible so as not to spill any of the water. She had just reached the edge of the clearing when a strange sound fell upon her ears. It startled her, and looking up, her face blanched with terror, for coming down the steep bank was one of the large poles which had been separated from its companions. It was only a few seconds in making the descent, but in that brief space of time a world of thought crowded into Betty's excited brain. She saw David sitting right in the track of death, unconscious of impending doom. Betty tried to shout, to rush forward to rescue him, but no words came from her lips, and her feet seemed glued to the ground. Rapidly the pole sped down the bank, and then just when but a score of feet from the helpless old man it struck the large stump in its onward sweep. With a wild bound it leaped high and like a mighty catapult hurled itself through the air over David's head and fell with a terrific crash into the brook below.
At first a wild scream of terror escaped Betty's lips, followed instantly by a cry of joy as she rushed forward, seized the hand of the bewildered old man and led him to a place of safety near the edge of the forest. Then her strength deserted her, and she sank down upon the ground and wept like a child.
"Oh, Mr. David, Mr. David," she sobbed, "you were nearly killed. Oh, oh, oh! Wasn't it awful!"
"There, there, Betty, don't feel so badly," and David stroked her hair in a gentle manner. "I'm all right now, so why should you cry?"
"But I can't help it," the girl moaned. "I was sure you would be killed, and I could do nothing to save you."
"Strange," her companion mused, "what started that log just as I was sitting there. It must have been loose and ready to start at the least motion."
"Let us go home," and Betty rose suddenly to her feet. "I don't want to stay here any longer. The place is not like it used to be. I do not feel safe. There seems to be danger everywhere."
Hurrying as fast as possible across the open space and casting apprehensive glances up the bank lest another pole should take a sudden notion to come down, they soon reached the woods beyond.
"There, I feel safer now," Betty panted. "Those poles can't touch us, anyway."
"I did want to see the falls," David replied, "and I am quite disappointed. But I do not feel able to try the trip again as it tires me too much."
"Suppose we ask Mr. Jasper to drive you there," Betty suggested. "I know he will be only too pleased to do it. Isn't it funny we didn't think of that before?"
"That is a good idea," David assented. "Maybe he will do it to-morrow. But what's the matter, girl?" he demanded, looking with surprise upon Betty, who had suddenly stopped and was staring down upon the brook through an opening among the trees.
"Look," she whispered, pointing with her finger, "there is that artist sketching down below. He doesn't know we are here, so let us be as quiet as possible."
"Well, why should he startle you?" David enquired. "He is not troubling us. I'm not afraid of him. In fact, I feel inclined to go and have a talk with him."
"Don't, please don't," and the girl laid her right hand imploringly on his arm. "Let us go home at once, for I feel shaky all over."
"Very well, then," David assented. "But I wish you would get over your foolish notion about that man. He is merely a harmless artist who has come to this place to get some good pictures. Why can't you be sensible?"