Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter XXIII. Rescued
Jasper had charge of fixing the poles and stretching the wires for light and power between the city and the falls, as well as throughout the country wherever it was planned to extend them. Gangs of men were at work along the lines, and Jasper was kept busy moving from place to place giving instructions and supervising everything. The entire responsibility rested upon him, and he wished to prove worthy of the trust.
The afternoon when David and Betty were up the brook, Jasper remained closer than usual to Creekdale, where a number of men were working. Opposite them a small island nestled out in the river, called "Emerald" Island by reason of its rich covering of fir, pine and birch trees. As a rule, Jasper paid strict attention to his duties, but to-day his mind often wandered and he would stand gazing out over the water to the island beyond.
As the afternoon wore away he became quite restless and watched the river most anxiously. A wind had sprung up, which, gentle at first, increased steadily into a gale. The water soon became rough and great white-caps rolled up-stream, especially heavy where the tide was strongest.
At length, leaving his men he went to the shore and stood close to the watery edge. He looked more down the river than formerly, as if expecting some one from that direction. But occasionally he cast his eyes off toward the island and breathed more freely after each look. He often consulted his watch as he now paced up and down the beach.
"What can be keeping that fellow?" he muttered. "He should have been here an hour ago. Surely he's not tied up on account of the wind. I gave him strict instructions to come back as soon as possible. If he does not----Hello, there he is now," and his face brightened as he gave a sigh of relief.
Coming up the river was a big boat used for rafting purposes containing one man. Volumes of spray leaped high as she surged through the water driven by a seven horse-power engine. This craft was used for towing logs and poles, and for the carrying of supplies to the various camps.
"You're late, Tom," Jasper remarked as the boat's bow touched the shore where he was standing. "I expected you an hour ago."
"It was the wind, sir," was the reply. "A number of logs broke loose from the raft and I had a hard time to collect them. There's a heavy sea runnin' below the Bar."
"It's bad out there, too," and Jasper pointed off toward the island.
"Sure thing," the man replied, turning partly around. "There's a boat leavin' the island now. Surely it's not goin' to try to run over."
"Where is it?" Jasper demanded.
"Look," and Tom stretched out his long right arm, "ye kin just see it. There, it's plainer now."
The only answer Jasper made was to give the boat a vigorous push from the shore, leap aboard, seize the wheel and order Tom to start the engine. In a few seconds they were cutting their way rapidly through the water straight for the big white-caps beyond. Tom asked no questions, but attended to the engine. It was all in the day's work to him, and this was much easier than towing logs.
From the moment he had seized the wheel Jasper had not taken his eyes off of the little boat away in the distance. He could see that it was in the rough water and was pitching about in an alarming manner. It seemed to be beyond control and was drifting rapidly toward the rougher water of the main channel.
"We are going very slow, Tom," he remarked. "Can't we do any better?"
"She's runnin' full speed," was the reply. "I'd like to slow down a bit, for we're gettin' soaked."
"Never mind the water, Tom. I wish you could make her go as fast again. Oh! did you see that?"
"The way that little boat pitched. I thought she had swamped."
It did not really take them more than ten minutes to run across that stretch of water, but to Jasper it seemed much longer. The boat pounded and threshed her way forward, shipping water at every plunge, keeping Tom busy with the small suction pump. At last, however, it was easy for Jasper to see two women sitting in the drifting boat. That they were helpless and had given up all attempt to reach the shore was quite evident. One was seated astern, and the other was holding the oars in her hands, but making no use of them. Jasper's heart beat quicker as he watched her, for he well knew what a struggle she must have made before giving up in despair.
"They're women!" Tom exclaimed in astonishment. "What in the devil are they doin' out here!"
"Shut up, and attend to your engine," Jasper sternly ordered.
They were quite close now, and the women saw them. As they approached Jasper could see Lois' face turned toward him and it was very white.
"Sit still," he shouted, and then he motioned to Tom to slow down. "Stop her," he presently ordered, and soon they were drifting up close to the little boat.
It took Lois and Margaret but a few seconds to step on board of the rafting boat, and then their own craft was taken in tow. There was no time for words now, as Jasper had all he could do to handle his own boat, for she was rolling heavily as he swung her around and headed for the shore. Running almost broadside to the waves a great deal of water was shipped, which kept Tom busy at the pump.
Jasper had no time to pay any attention to the women, but he intuitively knew that Lois was watching him. He was really happier than he had been for days, and he was so pleased that he had been of some service to the woman he loved. This was the second time he had rescued her from the water, and his mind went back to the experience up the brook below the falls. There was no Sammie Dingle present now to mar his pleasure, for which he was most thankful.
It did not take the boat long to run to the Sinclair shore, and here in a snug place, safe from the wind, she was beached.
"We can never thank you for what you have done for us to-day," Lois remarked as she and Margaret walked with Jasper to the house. "You have saved our lives."
"Don't thank me," Jasper replied. "It was a pleasure for me to do what I did."
"But how did you know we were out there?" Margaret asked.
"It was Tom who saw you first and pointed your boat out to me. He is the one you should thank."
"But why was Tom looking toward the island?" Lois enquired. "Your explanation does not satisfy me."
"Do you imagine that I was spying upon your little outing?" Jasper questioned.
"Not exactly spying. I don't like that word. But you must have known that we were there."
"Yes, I did. I saw you go over this afternoon, and when the wind sprang up it was only natural to suppose you would have trouble in getting home. That is all there is about it."
"And so you kept watch, and then came to our assistance?"
Lois said no more just then, but walked quietly to the house. She was doing considerable thinking, however, and when she and Margaret went upstairs to change their wet clothes, she again referred to the matter.
"It is just like him," Margaret remarked. "He knew that we were over there and that our lives would be in danger on the water. Not many men would have thought of such a thing."
Lois made no reply, but there was a deep happiness in her heart. She believed that Jasper had been thinking of her throughout the day and that she was always much in his mind. Margaret somewhat divined her thoughts and twined her arms around her neck.
"I believe he thinks a great deal of you, dear," she said, "and I am so glad. It is only natural, for who could resist you? You are as sweet and loveable as can be. If I were a man I am sure I would fall in love with you the first time I met you."
"You did it, anyway, didn't you?" Lois asked, in order to hide her embarrassment. "But there is the car," she added. "I wonder what brings father home so early?"
Going downstairs, they found Mr. Sinclair and Jasper seated upon the verandah in a corner protected from the wind by heavy vines.
"You are early to-day, Father," Lois remarked as she gave him the customary kiss. "We generally have to wait dinner for you."
"It is quite necessary that I should get back early, from what I have heard about you young women," was the reply. "It is hardly safe to leave you alone."
"So you know all about our narrow escape, then," and Lois looked enquiringly into his face. She believed that Jasper must have been telling him, and it somehow disappointed her. She did not think that he would be the first one to talk about the rescue he had made.
"Oh, yes, I learned all about it before I got home," Mr. Sinclair explained. "The men down the road saw it all, and then when Tom took the boat back he gave them the full details. You must be very careful after this, Lois, about going over to the island. You might not always have a rescuer handy as you had to-day."
Lois did not reply. She was glad that Jasper had not told, and she was sorry that she had judged him wrongly. She might have known better, so she mused.
Mr. Sinclair was in excellent spirits. He had changed a great deal since his illness and had become more like a father to her than he had ever been before. He entered more into the life of his family, and his old sternness passed away. Lois wondered what brought him back so early from the city. She asked no questions, however, feeling sure that he would explain the reason in due time.
She did not in fact have long to wait, for after they were all seated at dinner Mr. Sinclair looked quizzically into his daughter's face.
"I know you are puzzling your brain why I came home so early," he began. "Now, are you not?"
"I certainly am," Lois laughingly replied. "Margaret and I have been having all kinds of surmises."
"I've done a great stroke of business to-day," Mr. Sinclair continued, "and it has lifted a heavy burden from my mind. Can any of you guess what it is?"
"Bought a new tract of timber, Dad," Dick replied. "I can't think of anything that would please you better than that."
"No, it's not that."
"Maybe you've found some work for Dick to do," Lois suggested. "That would certainly be a great stroke of business."
"Come, come, Lois," her brother remonstrated. "You seem to think that I have nothing to do."
"Haven't I good reason to think so?"
"No, it's not that," Mr. Sinclair intervened. "You're a long way off."
"Have you bought out the new Light and Power Company?" Jasper asked.
"No, no," and Mr. Sinclair chuckled as he went on with his dinner. He was enjoying immensely the little game.
"I think I know what it is," and Margaret looked intently into his face. "You have sold out to the Break Neck Light and Power Company."
"How in the world did you know that?" Mr. Sinclair asked in surprise. "Why, I thought it was a dead secret."
"So it was in a way," Margaret smilingly replied. "But, you see, I am supposed to know a little of what is going on."
"And your father told you about it, did he?"
"Yes. I have known for some time that he was hoping you would sell out, and thus avoid trouble."
"Is it possible, Father," Lois asked, "that you have sold out all your interest in the City Light and Power Company?"
"We've all sold out, and at such a figure that we are much satisfied."
"Oh, I am so glad," and Margaret clasped her hands before her. "I was afraid that there might be trouble between you and father, and I did not want that."
"There is no danger of that now," Mr. Sinclair replied, "though there was at one time. I never believed that the matter could be so satisfactorily arranged, for I had no idea that the new company would be willing to come to our terms."
Margaret said nothing more, and while the others talked she took no part in the conversation. She very well knew why the matter had been so amicably settled, and she smiled to herself as she thought of the several long conversations she and her father had had together. But for her interference nothing would have been done, she was well aware of that. She remembered how stubborn her father had been when she first suggested the idea to him. But after he had considered it most carefully he realised what a good business proposition it would be.
"I believe Margaret is getting home-sick," Dick remarked.
"Why, what makes you think that?" she asked, somewhat startled by the question.
"Because you are so quiet. You haven't said a word for the last five minutes."
"She hasn't had much chance," Lois laughingly replied. "You have been doing most of the talking, Dick."
"Have I?" and the young man opened his eyes wide in apparent amazement. "But I am going to be silent now and let Margaret tell my fortune. She is a dandy at that," and he handed over his cup as he spoke.
"Oh, I have told your fortune so often," was the reply, "that it is getting to be an old story now."
"Won't you tell me mine?" Jasper asked, passing his cup. "I should like to know what's in store for me."
Margaret took the cup in her hand and gazed at it thoughtfully for a few seconds.
"Do you really wish to know?" she asked.
"Well, then, I see great trouble ahead of you."
"Whew!" Dick whistled. "This is getting serious. You'd better be careful, Spuds."
"Yes," Margaret continued, "I see a big black cloud, and it entirely surrounds you."
"Does it pass away?" Lois questioned, now much interested.
"I can not altogether tell."
"He's going to have a nightmare," Dick bantered, at which they all laughed.
"I hope there's nothing in your prophecy," Jasper remarked. "If I were at all superstitious I might worry a great deal over what you say."
"Look here, Lois," and Dick turned to his sister, "is there a hole in that tea-strainer? For pity sakes get a new one, and don't let so many grounds get through in the future. We don't want any more clouds."
When dinner was over they all went out on the verandah. It was a beautiful evening, for the wind had subsided, and the river stretched out before them like a huge mirror.
"How I should like to be out there now," Lois remarked, as she gazed pensively upon the water. "Suppose we go for a row?"
"I should think you'd be sick and tired of the river after your experience to-day," Dick replied. "I prefer the car to a boat any time."
"With all the enjoyment of dust, noise, and smell of gasoline thrown in," his sister sarcastically retorted.
"I guess you were most thankful to smell gasoline to-day, though, when Spuds picked you up in that old tub of his. Now, weren't you?"
Before Lois could reply Betty suddenly appeared before them. Her face was flushed, and she was panting as if she had been running fast.
"I have only a minute to spare," she explained, "for Mr. David doesn't know I have left him. He wants to see you, Mr. Jasper, and so I have come before it gets too late. I am afraid to come out after dark now."