Under Sealed Orders by H. A. Cody
Chapter XXIV. Gathering Clouds
Jasper did not like the idea of leaving such agreeable company and going with Betty. It was so pleasant to be near Lois, and he was hoping that they might have a quiet little conversation together. Why could not David wait? There was surely nothing of great importance that he wished to see him about. No doubt he wanted to ask him some questions concerning the progress of the work at the falls. He could call in on his way home and have a chat with him.
These thoughts ran quickly through his mind as he sat there watching Betty. But something in the girl's face told him that he had better go at once, and so he rose from his chair.
"Won't you come back again?" Lois asked. "It is go early that surely Mr. David will not keep you all the evening."
"I'm afraid not," was the reluctant reply. "I shall go over to my cabin and get a good sleep. I was up late last night looking after that raft of poles which we took down river to-day."
Lois had the feeling that something was wrong, and she longed to go to the Haven and find out what it was. She was almost tempted to leave the rest and accompany Jasper and Betty. She banished this idea, however, thinking that after all there was nothing over which she should worry. But in a twinkling there flashed into her mind the words Margaret had so lightly spoken over the tea-cup. "I see a big black cloud, and it entirely surrounds you." Why did those words come to her now? she asked herself, and why should she have that strange foreboding of impending trouble? So strong was this impression that she was inclined to hurry after Jasper and give him warning. She did nothing of the kind, however, but during the remainder of the evening she was quieter than usual and took little part in any conversation.
Jasper walked by Betty's side along the road leading to the main highway.
"How did you know where I was?" he presently asked her.
"We saw you this afternoon out on the river saving Miss Lois and Miss Margaret."
"Why, where were you?"
"Mr. David and I were up on the hill. We had just come back from a walk up the brook. Mr. David was tired after his excitement, and so we sat down to rest. It was then that we saw you."
"What made Mr. David excited?" Jasper enquired. "I suppose it was the great change he saw at the falls, was it?"
"Oh, no, not that. It was the rolling log which did it. You see, Mr. David was nearly killed this afternoon."
At these words Jasper stopped short and looked keenly into Betty's face.
"Nearly killed! What do you mean?" he demanded.
"Yes, that was it." Then in a few words the girl told him what had happened up the brook that afternoon, and of old David's narrow escape.
For a while Jasper walked slowly along the road after Betty had finished. He was greatly puzzled, for he could not believe that any log would become loosened at the exact moment when David was directly in front of it unless there was something to start it on its downward course.
"Did you see any men working near the logs when you were there?" he at length asked.
"I didn't see any," was the reply. "But we met several teams on our way up."
"And you saw no one near the place at all?"
"We didn't see any one near where we were going to have our lunch, but as we were coming home we saw the artist down by our brook."
"You did? And where was he?"
"Not far from Pyramid Rock. I don't think he saw us, for we hurried by as fast as we could."
"Why did you do that?"
"Because I'm afraid of him."
"What, did he ever do anything to frighten you?"
"No. But he makes me shiver all over. I can't understand why it is."
Jasper found David crouched in his big easy chair near the open window facing the falls. His eyes brightened as the young man entered and sat down by his side.
"It is good of you to come," David began, "for I have been anxious to speak to you ever since we came back from up the brook. You may go," and he motioned Betty to the door. "I wish to be alone for a while with Mr. Randall."
He waited until the door had closed behind the girl, and then turned his eyes upon his visitor's face. Jasper noted the worry there, and at once connected it with his experience up the brook that afternoon.
"Has Betty told you?" and David laid his right hand gently upon Jasper's arm.
"About the rolling log, and your narrow escape this afternoon?"
"Yes, she told me about it on our way here. I am so thankful that you were not hurt."
"I might have been killed! It was nothing less than a miracle that I escaped."
"It has shaken you up a great deal, so I see. But you will be all right after a good night's sleep. Your nerves are somewhat unstrung now."
"Perhaps so," the old man mused. "But I feel uneasy. It may be the shock, as you suggest. But there is something in my heart that I cannot explain. I never had such a feeling before, and I thought that perhaps you could help me."
"In what way?" Jasper asked, as David paused as if groping for the right words.
"It appears as if everything is about to slip away from me. I seem to-night as if about to start on a long mysterious journey, and that I shall never return. People call me crazy, and perhaps they have good reason for doing so. You may think the same, and especially so now as you listen to my words. But I cannot help this peculiar notion that possesses me and almost overwhelms me with strange forebodings. It may be the outcome of a mind diseased, who knows? My great concern, though, is in connection with the work at the falls. I have the feeling that in some way I am necessary to its welfare. I do not wish it to stop, and I want you to promise me to-night that if anything should happen to me that you will take my place, and be keenly interested in it."
"I do not see how I can take your place, for that is not in my power. But take a deep interest in all that goes on up there I certainly shall, and be as deeply interested in its progress as you have been."
"Ah, you can never be interested in it as I am," and David's eyes glowed with the intensity of his old-time devotion. "Can any one be as much interested in the growth and progress of a child as its parents? My child is up there," and he stretched out his arm toward the falls. "For it I have longed and suffered. It is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. My heart's blood is there."
Jasper now felt certain that the old man's mind was really unbalanced. He attributed it to the excitement of his narrow escape that afternoon. A good sleep would refresh him, and he would be all right in the morning. He rose to his feet and took David's hand in his.
"I must go now," he said. "We both need sleep. I was up late last night, and so must go home early to get a good rest. You had better do the same."
"I don't want to sleep," David emphatically replied. "My mind is too much upset to rest. But if you must go let me walk a short way with you. Perhaps the cool night air will refresh me. Wait a moment until I put on my coat and hat. Betty will be angry if I go without them."
Then he suddenly paused and caught Jasper fiercely by the arm.
"Do you hear them?" he asked. "Listen," and he held up his right hand.
In the old man's eyes had come a peculiar light, and his manner reminded Jasper of the first night he had met him on the road when he had rescued him from the speeding auto.
"Do you hear them?" David repeated. "My beautiful falls, my beautiful falls. What sweeter music than the sound of your rushing water. People have been deaf to your luring voice. I alone have listened and understood. They called me a fool and said I was crazy, ha, ha! But they know better now. They have seen what my beautiful falls can do. Light and power! Light and power! The world transformed. Burdens lifted from weary shoulders; homes transformed, and the hearts of all made glad."
He was standing in the middle of the room as he uttered these words, and Jasper noted how the fire of excitement was increasing in intensity.
"Come," and he laid his hand upon his companion's arm as he spoke, "let us go for a walk."
"Hush! Listen!" he cried, unheeding Jasper's words. "There it is again! Do you hear it? It's coming from the valley; it has winged its way across the sea. Ha, ha, he will hear it and tremble. But, wait, he is not there; he is in hell. Yes, that's where he is--in hell! Where else could he be?"
David's voice had risen to a shriek as he uttered the last words. Jasper stared at him in amazement. What did he mean by such strange utterances? Surely the man was out of his mind.
"Come," he again ordered, "let us leave the house and go for a walk. You will feel better out in the cool air."
Taking him by the arm Jasper led him out upon the verandah and down the steps. The twilight was deepening fast, and a quiet peace had settled over the land. Away to the right the trees on the high hills were clearly silhouetted against the evening sky. At any other time Jasper would have stood and revelled in the beauty of his surroundings. But now he was too much concerned about the man at his side to think about such things. From the time they left the house until they reached the main highway David talked incessantly. He was greatly excited, and gesticulated at almost every word.
At length he stopped, placed his right hand to his forehead, and looked around.
"What have I been saying?" he asked in a calmer voice. "It seems to me that I have been in a strange country seeing all kinds of things."
"You are all right now," Jasper replied. "You certainly have been raving at a great rate."
"Have I?" the old man queried, and he lapsed into a momentary silence. "Peculiar feelings come over me at times. The fresh air of night has done me much good. I shall walk a short way with you along the road."
David was now a pleasant companion, and Jasper enjoyed talking to him. He enquired about the progress of the work at the falls and asked numerous questions. Not once did he refer to the dark forebodings which had possessed him at the Haven, and Jasper believed that he had forgotten about them.
"I think I shall return now," he said after they had walked some distance.
"Shall I go back with you?" Jasper asked.
"Not at all. I shall enjoy the walk alone. You are tired and should get home at once. So, good night. I hope to see you again soon."
Jasper stood and watched him until the darkness swallowed him up. Then he made his way along the road to his own lonely house. He was very tired, but he found it difficult to get to sleep. The strange words which David had uttered kept running constantly through his mind. When he did at last fall into a fitful slumber, he was beset by a dreadful monster, which was slowly crushing him to pieces while he was unable to do anything to save himself.
He was aroused from this nightmare by a loud pounding upon the door. At first he imagined it was some one coming to his relief. Half dazed he groped his way across the room, threw open the door and peered out into the night.
"Who's there?" he demanded.
"It's only me," came a voice which he recognised at once as Betty's. "Oh, Mr. Jasper, have you seen Mr. David?" she asked.
"Seen Mr. David!" Jasper exclaimed in surprise. "I haven't seen him since I left him last night on the road near the Haven. Didn't he go home?"
"No, he didn't, and that's the reason I'm here. I waited up for him and when he didn't come back, I started out to find him."
"You stay there a minute," Jasper ordered, as he closed the door and turned back into the room. Lighting a lamp, he was astonished to find that it was near midnight. It took him but a few moments to dress, and then he again threw open the door and stepped out into the night.